Precarn project to integrate surveillance systems

A federally backed not-for-profit organization is contributing almost one million dollars towards a research project that will examine how current surveillance technologies can better gather information to improve national security and guard against natural disasters.

Ottawa-based Precarn Inc., which is supported by Industry Canada as well as other federal departments and provincial government agencies, Tuesday announced its support for a $2.2- million surveillance project that is scheduled for completion by December 2007. Led by Richmond, B.C.-based company MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Inc., other partners include Vancouver-based Actenum Corp., Valcartier, Que.-based Defense R&D Canada, Burnaby, B.C.-based Simon Fraser University and the University of Calgary. These organizations will work together to build intelligent surveillance tools that can handle the information they collect before it is sent to a central command centre for further processing.

The board of directors at Precarn, which funds, coordinates and promotes collaborative research and development projects in intelligent systems in the ICT sector, approved the surveillance project at its September meeting. While the decision to go ahead with it wasn’t directly influenced by recent events such as the relentless hurricane seasons down south or the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks, Precarn president and CEO Paul Johnston said most countries are increasing their focus proactive security.

“There is some sense that ports are an area of some vulnerability,” said Johnston. “We’re just trying to see if there’s some way we can assist.”

Hurricane Katrina, for example, highlighted how current resource planning tools could be more effective when taking vast quantities of information and disseminating it to the appropriate authorities. While a global control system without local information is essentially useless or slow, a local decision making system can be equally ineffective because it lacks contextual information, said Johnston.

“It’s trying to put local, immediate, real time information in the hands of the people who are operating at some higher level of command and control faster,” said Johnston.

This is one of the main problems with surveillance systems that exist today. Researchers and students at the University of Calgary will be developing an algorithm to facilitate improved integration among disparate surveillance vehicles including ships, aircrafts and satellites. Coordinating the research efforts there is Dr. Henry Leung, a professor at the university’s department of electrical and computer engineering.

“The problem right now is they want to include a lot of sensors with many individual components,” said Leung. “Some sensors have different formats so that’s why we need to develop an algorithm for data fusion.”

With improved interoperability control operators will be able to better coordinate ships and aircraft for faster and more efficient search and rescue efforts.

Optimization software company Actenum, which develops applications to help organizations improve operational performance, is providing its expertise on reallocating resources quickly in a search and rescue setting. If storm clouds are rolling in during a search and rescue effort, for example, Actenum software can reallocate the control operator’s schedule to reflect changes in real time.

“The number of possible decisions to make can be enormous,” said Actenum president and CTO Morten Irgens. “It’s inhuman to be able to see the consequences of all of them. We take the burden away.”

Aside from resource planning, the other part of the project will include the creation of a self-contained, mobile inspection “robot” for Canada’s aging water pipelines. This will help authorities isolate coastal threats earlier or facilitate faster relief to disaster zones.

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