back to article RoboCop-ter: Boffins build drone to pinpoint brutal thugs in crowds

A drone surveillance system capable of highlighting “violent individuals” in a crowd in real time has been built by eggheads. The artificially intelligent technology uses a video camera on a hovering quadcopter to study the body movements of everyone in view. It then raises an alert when it identifies aggressive actions, such …

  1. malle-herbert Silver badge
    Joke

    Reminds me a bit of those drones in "They live"...

    "Mamma don't like tattle-tails... BLAM !... "

    1. TonyJ Silver badge

      Re: Reminds me a bit of those drones in "They live"...

      Have an upvote! Watched this again a few weeks ago.

      It was a mate put me onto it a good twenty years ago - we used to deathmatch Duke Nukem 3D over a serial cable with back-to-back PC's and when Duke muttered the immortal line about coming here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and being all out of bubblegum, my mate told me it'd come from this film

  2. AndyS

    Colour me sceptical

    This technology doesn't belong on a drone.

    By the time a drone is qualified for police / military use, it is an expensive bit of kit, and will have at least a couple of operators monitoring it in real time. They will be much better at picking out suspicious behaviour than this AI.

    This tech is interesting, but would be much more useful on fixed CCTV cameras, where it could be running 24/7 across thousands of cameras. The UK's city-wide camera systems, for example, could pick out fights outside bars automatically - that might actually be useful.

    I suspect this is the new "on the internet" of patents. Do something interesting (novel analysis of a video stream)? OK, nice. Put it on a drone? Wow, where did all this cash come from?

    1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Colour me sceptical

      @AndyS - "pick out fights outside bars automatically"

      That can be done without sensors of any kind:

      if (bar == "The Blind Beggar" and time == "closing") then fight = true;

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Colour me sceptical

        Ok, coding time.

        NOT

        if (bar == "The Blind Beggar" and time == "closing") then fight = true;

        First we use enums for "time", not strings. And then:

        fight = (bar == "The Blind Beggar" and time == closing)

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: Colour me sceptical

      "I suspect this is the new "on the internet" of patents. Do something interesting (novel analysis of a video stream)? OK, nice. Put it on a drone? Wow, where did all this cash come from?"

      As far as I can tell that's exactly what it is. The introduction refers to a variety of previous similar work using fixed cameras, then goes on to say:

      "Despite their impressive performance (more than 90% accuracy), the area these systems can monitor is limited due to the restricted field of view of the cameras. The law enforcement agencies have been motivated to use aerial surveillance systems to surveil large areas."

      Quite literally, "There's nothing new here, but we've put it on a drone.". And of course, what it rather fails to note is that it's trivial to cover a city with thousands of security cameras, but rather less easy to do the same with a swarm of drones hovering 2m above everyone's heads.

    3. Nolveys Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Colour me sceptical

      This tech is interesting, but would be much more useful on fixed CCTV cameras, where it could be running 24/7 across thousands of cameras.

      I think that a better idea would be to just not do any of that.

      1. Tikimon Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Colour me sceptical

        "fixed CCTV cameras, where it could be running 24/7 across thousands of cameras."

        And that, children, is the whole point of the exercise. Once those cameras are in place it will be trivial to store, share, sell, search and categorize every image they collect. Mealy mouth assurances of deleted data and "privacy protections" are only "this won't hurt" lies used to calm the victim.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Colour me sceptical 2

      This tech is interesting, but would be much more useful on fixed CCTV cameras, where it could be running 24/7 across thousands of cameras.

      How would that help when the ratboys are running riot on mopeds, and the plods don't have clue what to do about it? Better video footage to sell to the news websites?

  3. Little Mouse

    Statistics

    So it can correctly identify 5 out of 6 hostile actions, but a more important statistic surely would be how many false-positives this system throws up.

    I could easily build a system with the same success rate, but that also identified 5 out of 6 regular actions as hostile...

    1. JimC Silver badge

      Re: False Positives and automated systems

      Whether false positives are a problem depends what you do with them. If an airborne Laser zaps the unfortunate victim to a greasy smut, that's a problem. However if the false positive then goes to a further level of checking and is discarded without the subject ever being aware of it or the misidentification recorded then its no big deal.

    2. Dr Dan Holdsworth Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Statistics

      I wonder how effective it is on mime artists?

  4. frank ly Silver badge

    I'm wondering

    "With one person in the image, the accuracy was 94.1 per cent, ..."

    What was this person doing that was classified as violent behaviour?

    1. Flywheel Silver badge

      Re: I'm wondering

      Probably disagreeing with Government policy.

      It won't be long before some regimes use this kit with small but powerful laser cannons to terminate the "violent" individual, purely as a precaution. The 5.9% ambiguity won't matter in situations like this.

      1. Christoph Silver badge

        Re: I'm wondering

        "The 5.9% ambiguity won't matter in situations like this."

        "Kill them all. God will sort them out."

    2. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

      Re: I'm wondering

      "What was this person doing that was classified as violent behaviour?"

      Not sure. I suspect this system will pick up dancing as violence too?

      1. Paul Kinsler

        Re: I suspect this system will pick up dancing as violence too?

        Possibly, but there's a lot of variation between the dance styles of a mosh pit and those of a Viennese Waltz.

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: I suspect this system will pick up dancing as violence too?

          This system would definitely have a problem with a Headbanger's Ball then. The idea of drones might work for outdoor events but indoor events would require a multitude of cameras. I'm just a tad skeptical about the whole thing and living in a world of constantly being watched. Then again, the 5-eyes and everyone else has ramped up that bit of paranoia. The question is: will the average person care that they're being watched? If Facebook, etc. are any indication, the answer is "no".

    3. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: I'm wondering

      "What was this person doing that was classified as violent behaviour?"

      Punching, kicking, strangling, shooting or stabbing. The article is, as usual when reporting on science, rather misleading. As mentioned earlier in the article, all images contained between 2-10 people; there were none with only a single person. The classification accuracy (shown in table 3 in the preprint), is for the number of people engaging in violent activity in a given image. If a single person in a group throws a punch, the system is apparently quite good at identifying that it was a punch. If a big brawl breaks out, it's not as good at working out exactly what each individual is doing. So it might be decent at detecting something like a random mugging on an otherwise peaceful street, but would be much worse at detecting a fight breaking out on a dance floor.

      1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: I'm wondering

        I wonder what percentage of the violent participants flagged up in the average protest crowd situation will be police officers?

    4. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      Re: I'm wondering

      Spanking a Monkey....

  5. Chris G Silver badge

    Kidnapping in public places

    What does that look like?

    How often does that happen?

    How many drones at 16 metres apart would be needed to keep Londoners safe from kidnapping?

    As already mentioned, dancing could easily be mistaken for fighting or even a couple snogging.

    I also wonder if in places like Glasgow and London, it can distinguish between a Glasgow kiss and a genuine kiss.

  6. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    False positives

    when it identifies aggressive actions, such as punching, stabbing, shooting, kicking, and strangling, with an accuracy of about 85 per cent.

    If it's as accurate as various police forces' attempts at facial recognition, the majority of arrests will be pensioners doing Tai Chi.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: False positives

      Would Tai chi or the more floaty martial arts be picked up as non violent?

      This could lead to the development of a group of people trained to evade AI detection through the medium of dance and slow movements.

      1. Little Mouse

        Re: False positives

        "a group of people trained to evade ... detection"

        You jest, but historically isn't this exactly how & why some Martial Arts came to be?

        Hey - Martial Arts may have been outlawed, but no-one said anything about not learning to "dance".

      2. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: False positives

        Tai chi might fool the system right up to the point where you give someone a smack in the gob, there is no way you can really disguise that.

        All of the 'floaty' stuff is about concentration, contemplation, building muscle memory and strength, stamina and balance.

        You could probably get away with some of the joint locks and throws though.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    100% accuracy wont matter unless

    the Police/LEO deem it too much paperwork to deal with it or just arent around. Catching people after the event using facial recognition isnt the answer especially from the victims pov.

  8. Elmer Phud Silver badge

    So . . .

    . . . why not start a mock disturbance elsewhere to keep the drone busy sending heavies over while you . . .

  9. AJ24

    Comments from the Author

    Hi,

    The system is able to differentiate between Dancing and violent activities as the pose of both individuals is used for identification of the violent individual and not just one individual.

    The drone can fly higher as well and can identify more individuals (greater than 10) as mentioned in the paper. It was restricted to 10 as we were trying to run it real-time and beyond that the processing was slow. That can also be managed with more resources.

    Best

    AJ

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Comments from the Author

      Any idea what the accuracy is at an altitude of 50 meters over a packed football stadium ?

      Because, if I'm not mistaken, that would be a prime target for this kind of tech.

      1. Cardinal

        Re: Comments from the Author

        @Pascal Monett

        "Any idea what the accuracy is at an altitude of 50 meters over a packed football stadium ?"

        I think the authorities would probably drop the drone idea when the winning Cup Final goal was scored in the last minute of extra time - and the hovering armed drone slaughtered the whole crowd .

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Comments from the Author

      Dear Author,

      I'm not sure you've been to enough dances.

  10. 89724102371719531892724I9755670349743096734346773478647852349863592355648544996313855148583659264921

    Frikkin Tasers!

    Drone mounted!

  11. ma1010 Silver badge

    Reminds me of a Larry Niven story

    IIRC, in "Cloak of Anarchy," Larry Niven wrote about a gadget called a "copseye." It floated above crowds and had a camera and a stunner. They patrolled "free parks" in which there was no law except "no violence." If violence broke out, the copseye would stun the participants.

    Then a clever guy found out how to short them all out - but his attack also caused the exits to all lock, so things got a bit interesting for a while as folks got to try anarchy for real.

  12. Zwuramunga

    Depends on the response.

    Spray them with a dye or a irritant like Pepper Spray OK.

    Bullets, too far.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Depends on the response.

      Pepper spray doesn't work on drones...

  13. tekHedd

    And.. JUST violent actions, right?

    So... how much work would it be to train it to recognize other suspicious actions, people trying to evade detection, people walking guiltily, "loitering with intent", protesters, people working their way purposefully through a crowd instead of gawping? I'm sure you can come up with more. It's fun!

  14. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Holmes

    Uh-Oh

    In this case, an overly sensitive system could produce false positives for people playing football together, and think that they were kicking one another.

    This is going to be fun. Lots of marginalized Dindu Nuthings suddenly showing extreme interest in various sportsy outdoors activities. No-win no-fee lawyers are reserving billboard time.

  15. onefang Silver badge

    "With one person in the image, the accuracy was 94.1 per cent,"

    And no one has mentioned Fight Club, or are you all just sticking to the first rule of Fight Club?

  16. wsm

    Accuracy?

    "...aggressive actions, such as punching, stabbing, shooting, kicking, and strangling."

    Sounds like an average day at the park with my 5-year old nephew. If his friends are with him? Add any other sort of mayhem.

    But in an ordinary crowd, I have no confidence in any surveillance technique other than trained observers with mirrored sunglasses and walkie-talkies.

  17. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Can this system ...

    ,,,be adapted to identify Italians who might be thinking about voting against the EU?

    (signed)

    The EU Commission

  18. 4whatitsworth

    Southpaws

    What are the chances of finding two southpaws for the picture.....

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