Victorian transport gets smart about tech, crims

The opening last week of the National Intelligent Transport Systems Centre in Port Melbourne has been a labour of love for technology sponsor NEC Business Solutions.

Bristling with electronics, the centre has combined more than $2 million of systems and applications to develop a cutting-edge multimedia and communications nerve centre with tendrils stretching far across Victoria.

Live video and instrument monitoring feeds, brought in via transport networks that link traffic cameras and road monitoring equipment across the state, allow operators to instantly monitor and optimize traffic flow based on current conditions. The operations centre is crammed with monitoring terminals, with three NEC GT5000 and GT6000 projectors - flown in from overseas at a cost of over $30,000 each - casting floor-to-ceiling video feeds across one wall of the room.

The centre is about more than just diagnosing traffic snarls, however: as a cutting-edge technology centre, it is intended as a centre of gravity where Australia's previously fragmented ITS industry can unite to develop and commercialize innovative transport-related products.

It is also a technology showcase for NEC, which has made the centre home to Australia's first implementation of its SmartCatch real-time image processing software.

Designed by the boffins in NEC's Japanese RD centre, SmartCatch is built around four image analysis algorithms that, when combined in various measures, instantly analyzse video images for suspicious activities. Complex change-detection algorithms can, for example, notify operators if a person leaves a backpack on a train platform or removes an item from the camera's field of vision.

The system isn't limited to spotting lost bags; tuned to the idiosyncrasies of human movement, it can just as easily spot someone jumping over a turnstile; a person piggybacking another person to bypass a security door; or someone walking backwards through one-way airport security checks.

With resolution good enough to make out a pack of cigarettes at 40 metres, SmartCatch could eventually be linked with face scanning software to pick out persons of interest as they pass security cameras - but this capability hasn't yet been perfected or implemented.

With only 5 percent of surveillance footage typically ever seen by human eyes, SmartCatch will play a key role in helping NITSC operators become more proactive in monitoring the state's transport networks, says NEC business solutions executive manager Milton Purcell: "It gives us the ability to reach out to any networked camera that we can touch via the Internet," he said.

SmartCatch may be headlining now, but the site will soon sport more innovations. Intended as a centre of excellence for Victoria's $16 billion transport, distribution and logistics (TDL) industry, NITSC incorporates numerous secure development bays, where inventors can quietly build and commercialize transport-related applications combining tools such as intelligent GPS and road hazard navigation, RFID-based vehicle tagging, intelligent container management, and distribution of live traffic condition updates to motorists.

Behind the scenes is a sophisticated network linking a broad range of NEC equipment - most notably, three racks of NEC 5800 Express blade servers, each containing six dual-CPU 3.6GHz Xeon servers running Microsoft Windows Server 2003 with 4GB of RAM.

These are supported by 12 dual-CPU NEC 120LH stand-alone servers, multiple terabytes of server-attached storage, dedicated multimedia streaming technology from Perth company PIVoD Technologies, and a range of video archiving, duplication and distribution systems.

The gear isn't only for creative types, however: the site, whose strong government backing was evident when Victorian Treasurer and Minister for State and Regional Development John Brumby addressed a capacity crowd at its opening last week, also serves as a serviced office and disaster recovery site for smaller, Victorian government agencies.

There's a fibre-optic Gigabit Ethernet backbone with 100Mbps desktop connections throughout, nearly 100 SIP-compatible IP telephones and associated switching gear, and incoming trunk lines from all across Victoria.

With an entire floor of the NITSC building available as serviced office space, the site could potentially become the operations centre for a government organization displaced by a disaster. NEC's history in managing Victorian government desktops, combined with the integration of live links from the site into departments' own data centres, would smooth the transition from one site to another, with the ample computing resources at NITSC providing necessary IT support.

"Brought together, this is a hosted convergence model that bridges across all of the existing disparate areas of transport," Purcell said. "If the centre is functioning in its third iteration as a contingency disaster recovery site, they need user profile portability from the government back into that site. The only way that can happen is if they're part of our hosted regime. By pulling back profiles [to the new site] it will complete the portability loop for government agencies."


Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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