Artificial intelligence getting smarter as it watches over the UAE

Closed-circuit TV cameras in the Emirates have come a long way over the past few years and no longer simply record what happens in front of them, experts say.

Inside Dubai Police's Command and Control Centre. As a result of advanced camera systems, the the UAE has become one of the safest countries to work and live in the world.
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DUBAI // Advanced surveillance systems that use artificial intelligence to detect suspicious behaviour and raise the alarm are keeping people safe in the UAE.

This was revealed by Marwan Khoury, marketing manager of Axis Communications ME, who said the UAE was the most mature market in the region for this sort of technology. The company is a major supplier of advanced camera systems.

"The UAE is a very well established market for us," said Mr Khoury. "The government is investing heavily on surveillance, especially city surveillance, and the result is the UAE has become one of the safest countries to work and live in the world."

Closed-circuit TV cameras have come a long way over the past few years and no longer simply record what happens in front of them.

Smart systems analyse video as events unfold and send alerts to the police or other authorities. Some cameras can detect if they are being attacked by vandals and trigger an alarm.

The public first became aware of the scale of the use of surveillance systems in Dubai in 2010 when a team of Mossad agents murdered Hamas military commander Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in the city.

Police issued remarkably clear video and images showing members of the hit squad, and attributed their success in the case to the widespread presence of cameras in the emirate.

Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan, the Dubai Police chief, said last August that the emirate had allocated Dh500 million to deploy smart security cameras.

Roy Alves, a business development manager at Axis, said: "The cameras are getting smarter. New software goes beyond passive recording to alerting law enforcement about suspicious activity in real time.

"Video analytics apply artificial intelligence to video, to issue alerts of irregular behaviour. The technology is growing up fast."

This progress is driven partly by the limited attention span of the average human being.

Mr Khoury added: "Installations are becoming larger and larger. We've done a lot of research with independent companies to see what sort of attention span a person looking at a monitor can maintain, and we've discovered it's about 20 minutes before they start losing focus.

"So if there's a centralised location where you have a few people monitoring screens, there's a very high possibility that they're going to miss something. That's a big challenge, especially for governments."

Intelligent video networks used a variety of technical solutions to make it possible for systems and people to cope effectively with large amounts of video data, he said.

"For example, instead of recording 24/7 you can have video motion detection. If a person enters an area where they should not be then the camera, using the right kind of software, can automatically send an alarm to whoever is programmed to receive it.

"There are active tampering alarms, so if somebody tries to paint over your camera the camera automatically detects things like that. And if a car enters a parking lot where there hasn't been movement for a while the camera can zoom in and read the licence plate and send an alarm."

Andreas Rex, senior show manager of the Intersec security conference that takes place in Dubai each year, said: "The number of surveillance cameras in Dubai is tremendously high. It's definitely the highest in the GCC, and it is state-of-the-art equipment that they use.

"What is so special here is that almost all of those cameras are connected directly to the command and control centre of Dubai Police. All the cameras in the shopping malls and Dubai World Trade Centre, for example, are connected directly to the police, which is kind of unusual.

"Usually what happens in the mall stays inside the mall and is pretty much the business of the local security department or company."

He said the feeds from some cameras inside Dubai Mall went straight to the police, and the mall security team, and even the owner, had no access to the images.

"The response time is much quicker if the police know what's happening before they are informed of an incident."