By this time next year, when a motorist takes a detour down a subway tunnel, the San Francisco Municipal Railway will know all about it. Or rather, its system of “smart” video cameras will know.
Security cameras using “video behavioral analytics software” will be installed in Muni “portals” — where trains go above/under ground — by the end of the year, Muni spokesman Paul Rose told the Appeal Thursday.
Muni already has security cameras running on all vehicles and at all stations. But these new “smart” cameras are able to analyze the Muni system’s “trends,” and then “identify when someone or something is where it shouldn’t be,” such as a vehicle or a person on the rails, Rose said.
The software uses “algorithms and machine learning techniques” to figure out what constitutes a “normal” situation, according to Web site Fast Company, which first reported news of the cameras.
Portals or rail platforms are observed for “weeks at a time” to establish “normal,” after which time “anomalous” behavior triggers an alarm, the Web site reported. Those anomalous behaviors include “loitering, abandoned packages, and abnormal numbers, speed or direction of passengers,” reports CBS5.
While the cameras will be able to shut down a train, they’re not quite a precursor to Skynet. The alerts are “immediately shared with humans” at Muni central control and with station agents, who then decide how to proceed, Rose said.
Cameras at West Portal, Folsom and Embarcadero, Eureka Portal, Sunset Portal, and Church and Duboce — where a drunk driver managed to pilot an SUV towards the Van Ness station before crashing — will be live by the end of the year. Muni Metro underground stations should have cameras by the end of 2013, Rose said.
There are currently no plans to install the cameras on the transit agency’s fleet of buses and trains, Rose said.
Muni paid $1.6 million for 400 cameras in February, Rose said. For the software to run the cameras, the transit agency awarded a $2 million, five-year contract to Houston-based BRS Labs in April, he said. You can see the SFMTA’s request for proposals here.
The cash-strapped agency, which is running a $29 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that ends June 30, used “state and federal grants” to pay for the high-tech security system, the Chronicle reported.
Other firms placed bids, but no details on the terms were immediately available.
BRS Labs firm has sold similar software to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as well as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for use at the World Trade Center, Fast Company reported.
The cutting-edge camera equipment may let Muni passengers ride in peace, but for a brief period Wednesday, it set off the Internet’s Orwellian alarms at the local, national, and international level.
The Huffington Post breathlessly blogged that Muni Surveillance Cameras Identify Suspicious Activity Without Human Supervision, Spark Outrage, while Muni Diaries exhibited more restraint, simply reporting Muni to Install New Automatic Surveillance System.
“San Francisco To Get Pre-Crime Surveillance Cameras,” blared InfoWars.com, which compared the technology to the situation in the 2002 Tom Cruise film “Minority Report,” which was in turn based on a Philip K. Dick short story.
The cameras “alert guards to potential criminal or terrorist activity – before any crime has been committed,” the Web site reported — far sexier than “the cameras tell Muni if there’s a drunk dude in a truck on the tracks.”
The InfoWars piece, which reblogged the UK Daily Mail’s unattributed reblog of the Fast Company story, ended up on the homepage of the Drudge Report.
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