By Jo Twist
BBC News science and technology reporter
Smart software is taking CCTV into the domain of 3D gaming by combining graphics, map data, and different camera views in one composite image.
Software brings together real-time video, location data and graphics
The system automatically tracks and stitches 3D images with CCTV video, maps and other real-time information.
It automatically alerts operators to intruders, unusual behaviour, left objects or anything it is told to spot.
The UK's former defence research agency, QinetiQ, plans to bring the US system, called Praetorian, to the UK.
It is currently in operation at airports in the US and other high security environments there.
"This is a huge step, not just an incremental step [for CCTV]", Simon Stringer, managing director of QinetiQ's security division told the BBC News website.
The London Underground system alone, the epicentre of the recent bombings, has more then 6,000 CCTV cameras on the network.
The Praetorian system looks like something one would see in a computer game or the TV series 24.
It has rendered graphics of landscapes and real-time video inserts of objects which can be seen and navigated from different angles.
Camera to camera
The term Praetorian was originally the name given to the tent of Roman commanding generals - praetors. The Praetorian Guard was the select gang of individuals who would protect it.
"It [Praetorian] provides a composite picture which means you are not only able to determine where something is going on, but control the incident by deploying appropriate personnel to the area," explained Dr Stringer.
If a camera operator suspects an individual, he or she can be designated, or marked, and the system will automatically track the individual from camera to camera.
Automatic handover from one camera to another, without operators manually switching views, is highly desirable for CCTV systems.
Praetorian will graphically build up the terrain around the CCTV video insert and will swap camera views seamlessly in real-time too.
Those movements can then be rendered and projected onto a 3D map which would allow the individual to be intercepted or isolated, away from busy public transport, for instance.
By stitching different 3D and real-time information together, the system presents a rather game-like interface.
"What it does is to give you an overall perspective on a region or a site or an area such that you get a composite picture of the whole thing," explained Dr Stringer.
"The big advantage is that not only do you have situational awareness, but the system will automatically alert you to intruders, abnormal behaviour, left objects or anything else you tell it to look for."
Facial and behavioural recognition systems have been developed and tested on the UK's CCTV networks, but the systems do not build composite images with this data all at once, in real-time.
The software automatically tracks objects you tell it to
Praetorian is not a biometric system that tries to pick out particular people, however.
"It is not looking at a database of people. It is looking for anomalies in behaviour, for example, people loitering in places you would not expect them to be," said Dr Stringer.
"Somebody loitering on a continual basis, or indeed leaving something would alarm it. You can then decide if you want to capture the image and refer it to other images."
It is programmed to know what is considered "normal human behaviour" in any given context, so can detect the typical movements of someone speaking on a mobile, for example.
Abandoned objects will also be detected because the system will know what is supposed to be in a particular image in ordinary circumstances.
If it spots something it does not recognise, it will alert the operator who can then inspect the image more closely to decide whether it is deemed a threat or not.
"The computer scans and recognises a normal environment," said Dr Stringer.
"If something is put down and becomes part of the environment that computer does not see as normal, it will sound an alarm and the operator will see if it warrants further investigation."
Dr Stringer said QinetiQ was confident that the system would be deployed in the UK and the company is in talks with UK authorities.
As it is a software system, it can be overlaid on top of existing CCTV network architectures.