Urban Tomography and Security

Tomography is the act of creating an image through cross sectional image, waves, sensors, video, etc. Urban Tomography is the same action except throughout an urban area. There are many ways on accomplishing this, like some of the methods that I have just mentioned. I feel that this form of imaging can be very useful in surveillance and security uses. Due the huge amount of structures and people an urban area has, urban tomography can be very useful in providing security to the city.

Surveillance cameras can be considered to be a form of urban tomography as cities such as New York are starting to provide street level surveillance cameras. However, these can be very limited since the cameras are bounded to the place it has been set up.

About forty-percent of Americans currently smartphones that support 3G, Wi-fi and GPS location. What if the information from all these almost hand-held computers put together and create one image in real time and place that can be analyzed from one single location. It sounds unreal and almost science fiction but research has already begun. At the University of Southern California, a project aimed and appropriately named the Application Development of “Urban Tomography” for Transportation Security at a major Los Angeles Transportation Hub (LATH). The purpose of this research project is to provide the proper technology so that law-enforncement can use it as a tool. The pilot location is the Los Angeles Transportation Hub. Some of the obstacles is providing a program for smartphones in a wide array of operating systems, from Apple to Android. Another obstacle the research crew have to overcome is to find a way the program doesn’t drain all the batteries of the smartphone currently in use since GPS function, audio and video capabilities in smartphones draw a lot of energy. Also, they must find a way so that all the phones have enough signal to send the information. After all the information has been collected, how can it all be made into one single image so it can be analyzed? This kind of technology is still in its very early stages but it is definitely plausible.

On the FEMA’s (Federal Emergency Management Agency) website, they have already have a program ready to use made possible by the manufacturer, “Urban Tomography.” In the description, it states that it currently supports only Nokia N95-1 and N95-3 but will soon support Android and Window smartphone platforms but no word on Apple IOS. It describes the program to allow the user’s phones to make high quality videos and automatically upload to a server tagged with the time and GPS coordinates the video was taken. This server is a command center that a single location can analyze all the information being collected.

Professor Krieger and his research team has provided a powerpoint in explaining in detail of how his Urban Tomography project. It explains that the program can be ubiquitous among smartphones and the program used is a “set and “forget” meaning that once the program is active no other necessary action is required other than making sure the phone is on. It states the huge amount of videos (5,000+) and geotags from the pilot program. Urban tomography costs much less than surveillance cameras and has more advantages such as the information collected can be customizable and the video collected is by people at the situation point. This can lead to better situation awareness and better decisions can be made.

Urban Tomography is still in its infancy but this technology has much potential. It can possibly prevent a major disaster in a populous area and save lives.







By William Kwan


2 thoughts on “Urban Tomography and Security

  1. The intentions are good, but will the results turn out as intended? The above mentioned project poses a threat to privacy, and this will in turn lead to several problems. In London, for example, the government does not have its citizens’ cooperation. Why? The presence of thousands of CCTVs in the city sends a message that screams “we do not trust you”, therefore the citizens don’t trust the government in return. Harmless people have gone to jail for littering, and this shows how the tools of urban tomography are bound to be exploited by those in control.
    Being imperfect is what makes a city unique; by understanding and trying to solve all its problems takes away it character. Imagine cameras trained on Jay-Z’s Brooklyn hang-out(s) as a kid, maybe we would not have a Jay-Z today (just using him to illustrate my point, you are entitled to your opinions about him).
    Even Google Earth is intrusive as I can tell if my neighbor’s rarely used car was moved during my four months away in school.

    The sights and sounds of NYC.

    -O.I, Group 5

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