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The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » February 23, 2012
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Supercomputer Watching You
February 23, 2012   
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Prof. Henryk Krawczyk, rector of the Gdańsk University of Technology and manager of the Mayday Euro 2012 project financed by Poland’s National Center for Research and Development using European Union funds, talks to Karolina Olszewska.

The name of the project you manage, Mayday Euro 2012, suggests help is needed. Who needs it specifically?

We all do. The world of today is one of escalating vandalism, hooliganism and terrorist attacks, which is particularly true of large urban areas. It is necessary to ensure protection for both people and public property, and that calls for better resources and assistance for law enforcement services, the police, municipal authorities and organizers of various public events. Hospitals need help as well because medical research needs to be upgraded all the time in order to help patients with diseases of the digestive system, for example, especially those at risk of developing advanced stages of cancer, such as colorectal cancer. It is necessary to do everything to detect such diseases as early as possible no matter what it takes. Then, there are artists and academics who need to have their copyrights protected. It is necessary to develop methods to help track down cases of content infringement, or in other words plagiarism. Such methods should be of particular interest to university-level schools.

These are just a few of the many possible applications of KASKADA, a universal platform for the processing of multimedia data streams.

What exactly is KASKADA?

The Polish acronym stands for Context Analysis of Data Streams from Cameras for Alert-Defining Applications. We use fiber optic cables and the internet to transmit information, images and sound. The data comes from different sources, including security cameras on the streets and at stadiums. Then special software analyzes the multimedia streams, detects incidents, warns users of abnormal situations, and may activate a succession of measures to eliminate the detected threats. The incoming data streams are fed to the software in the Galera supercomputer at the TASK IT Center, which operates out of the Gdańsk University of Technology. This data-and-software junction in the Galera supercomputer is what we call KASKADA. The platform enables the whole system to process real-life data which is of key importance to security.

How can the platform be used in the future?

What we have developed is an innovative computer program whose algorithm will find a wide array of applications in everyday life. The platform can be used in all sorts of ways depending on what kind of multimedia stream is fed into it. One of the first applications we have come up with is automatic recognition of people and events. New technology makes it possible to install growing numbers of security cameras on city streets, at stadiums, airports, train stations and in other public places as well as in large industrial plants, to identify potential threats. Still, surveillance alone is not enough to protect the public. In order to ensure an adequate level of security, we need to be able to keep an eye on areas under surveillance on a nonstop basis, so we can detect threats on time and take immediate action when necessary. This is what KASKADA allows us to do. There is also a computer application that supports medical examination techniques by identifying pathological changes in the digestive system through a frame-by-frame analysis of footage produced by an endoscope. Physicians who use KASKADA are alerted—in real time or after the examination is completed—to problem areas. This is crucial for early cancer diagnostics. Finally, the KASKADA system makes it possible to review and compare digital text and multimedia documents which are very large in size. In this case, the system enables the reviewer to quickly make sure that a given document was not created in breach of copyrights. In other words, this is a state-of-the-art anti-plagiarism scanner. It has served to build a repository of multimedia stream analysis services available for other applications.

The project’s name suggests that the system will be used during the Euro 2012 soccer championships, which Poland is hosting together with Ukraine this June. Is that correct?

Person and behavior recognition techniques are part of monitoring systems and as such, they can be used at soccer stadiums and in areas around them. Some of KASKADA’s functionalities can be put to use during the Euro 2012 tournament, and, in one of the proposed applications, the system could be used to count soccer fans entering the stadiums, for example. That way, you could see if the result is identical with the number of tickets sold for the match. For security reasons, I cannot reveal all the system functionalities that might be used during Euro 2012, but let me just tell you that automatic swear word recognition is one example. Once the system detects somebody is throwing insults, it can automatically focus the camera on that person and take their photograph.

How does KASKADA work?

The system will be able to detect potentially dangerous situations, such as a fist fight, a crowd gathering, a gunshot or somebody collapsing and falling to the ground. The application analyzes picture and sound and when it detects a threat, special markers are added to the multimedia stream so that afterwards all the suspicious-looking occurrences are easier to locate in the footage. At this point, the case is transferred to systems which immediately notify law enforcement services about the detected threats.

Will the system replace human beings?

We are not getting rid of the human factor, because at the end of the day, the decision on whether or not to move in is up to people. The same is true of applications that analyze medical data streams. The advantage of computer analysis over the human eye is that it is more thorough, but nothing could ever replace a good physician who comes up with the diagnosis. The point in using the system is to save time for specialists and leave all the mundane tasks for the computers to take care of.

How can KASKADA assist physicians in analyzing video footage recorded during gastrointestinal endoscopic examinations, for example?

The medical application developed as part of the Mayday Euro 2012 project is designed for endoscopic examinations which have been increasingly popular in the West. During the procedure, patients swallow a special pill with a miniature camera inside and, over the next several hours, the camera records a video inside the patient’s digestive tract. The footage is subsequently used to assess the patient’s condition. However, physicians need a lot of time to view the entire material. What our application does is identify pathological changes in the digestive tract through a frame-by-frame analysis of the video footage. When that is done, medics are advised about potential changes and areas where a disease is developing, which is crucial as far as early cancer diagnostics is concerned. This functionality enhances the accuracy of the examination, allowing for changes to be detected sooner rather than later. With the application we have designed, physicians will no longer have to watch the entire footage, because the computer will only pick out the suspicious-looking sections of the digestive tract. As a result, physicians will need to spend only a fifth of the time they need now to watch the material.

What other uses will the system have?
The project makes it possible to quickly check if a given document is in breach of any copyrights. We have challenged the already existing Plagiat.pl system, because our system not only analyzes text on the lexical level, in terms of letters and characters, but also on the semantic level, so it can identify passages which mean the same thing. Our system will be more precise than what is out there at the moment, making it easier for reviewers to decide if a given paper has been plagiarized or not. A faculty at the Gdańsk University of Technology is already using the application to review dissertations.

Where else has the system been tested?

Applications developed in the course of the project have been tested using both models of hypothetical situations and real-life footage from areas covered by surveillance such as street stretches or auditoriums. Moreover, the Endoscopy Clinic of the Medical University of Gdańsk has provided us with video footage of endoscopic examinations. To compare different text documents, we use online resources such as the WIKI repository and sets of specially selected master’s theses. By the way, the application will be able to automatically classify the subjects of master’s theses and other documents. A digital document database arranged in this way will help make comparative analysis more efficient.

In a nutshell, what has been accomplished as part of the Mayday Euro 2012 project so far?

The overriding aim of the project is to use new information technology to ensure broader research on multimedia systems and enhance the quality of the research. Like I have said, the KASKADA research platform has diverse applications in public security, medicine and intellectual property protection, but it can also be used in information technology as a tool for designing and implementing algorithms for multimedia stream analysis. A number of stream analysis algorithms and a user-friendly interface come along with the platform. We have established direct fiber-optic links with the Gdańsk airport, the PGE Arena and Lechia Gdańsk stadiums, and the train stations in Gdynia and Gdańsk, all in order to be able to analyze signals coming from different places.

Just how difficult is it to process all this data?

As the number of security cameras keeps growing, the problem is how to make sure that the recorded footage is thoroughly viewed. There is a limited number of police officers, city patrol guards and security guards who can take care of that. The solution we propose is a high-performance, huge computing cluster fitted with appropriate context software to perform simultaneous analysis of images from many security cameras. I would go as far as to say that swift processing of that much data would be impossible if it weren’t for KASKADA. With KASKADA, it is possible to simultaneously manage multiple data streams, monitor different events and adjust the efficiency of the supercomputer so as to reduce the cost of image analysis in the case of footage from a multitude of cameras hooked up to the system.

Is KASKADA something unique or are there similar systems in other countries?

Scientists around the world have long been working on text analysis, detection of pathological changes and systems for identifying suspicious-looking individuals and potentially dangerous incidents, but our project is special in that we have designed a whole system rather than isolated applications. What is more, it doesn’t matter where the analyzed data comes from. All systems and services in our project employ identical tools provided by KASKADA, the source of algorithm analysis. The Galera supercomputer enables simultaneous, multithread and context analysis of data streams produced by different sources. It is an innovative project that takes advantage of state-of-the-art technology and the latest research findings. If offers an inventive way to improve public security and ensure more efficient medical examinations and copyright protection.

How is this interdisciplinary research financed?

The Mayday Euro 2012 project is being carried out as part of the Innovative Economy Operational Program. The Gdańsk University of Technology and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education signed an agreement on co-financing the project in June 2009. The project was transferred to the National Center for Research and Development when it was already under way, but the terms of the funding remained unchanged. The project’s budget totals zl.16.3 million.

Is there a business plan for the project?

The project is nearing completion and work on it will continue until the end of this year. We expect that the KASKADA platform and accompanying applications will generate enough funds to support the staff involved in the project. At the moment, the staff is larger: around 50 people are working on the project. We also hope that the Gdańsk University of Technology will make some extra profit once other applications are put to commercial use, but for now the commercial stage is still a thing of the future.

What are the odds of the system becoming a commercial success?

The potential market for the services developed as part of the project, in both Poland and abroad, is very big. We have been going to great lengths to make sure the Gdańsk University of Technology can make a profit once the results of its research are put into practice. As we promote the project, we have the support of the National Center for Research and Development. They have helped us make a promotional video for Mayday Euro 2012 and they also make it easier us to take part in trade fairs, and by doing so, they facilitate our contacts with potential business partners. The results of our efforts will be made available to many different institutions.
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