DASA Backs AI, LiDAR Tech for Boosting Crowd Safety

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  • Funded through the DASA Security Open Call, Createc has created a crowd monitoring innovation using LiDAR technology to improve crowd safety

  • Createc’s crowd monitoring innovation underwent year-long trials at Euston Station and Luton Airport, and also a month-long trial at Waterloo Station

  • Following the successful trials, Network Rail has acquired the autonomous crowd monitoring technology for deployment at Waterloo station in 2024.

Picture this scenario: a security officer monitors multiple screens; analysing footage of commuters at a bustling railway station. Suddenly, a section of the crowd startles and steps back. It could be as simple as someone spilling their coffee and others reacting, passengers rushing to catch a train that’s just been announced, or, in a worst-case scenario, a criminal brandishing a knife and causing panic. During critical moments like this, time is of the essence. But with potentially hundreds of hotspots to manage in a busy station, it can be difficult to quickly identify danger areas.

A system that enables security operators to swiftly adjust to changing circumstances and enhance crowd surveillance in busy areas can be crucial for saving lives.

However, this a complex challenge. Suspicious behaviour can manifest in various ways, and crowds naturally react diversely to different situations. Another hurdle is in delivering a user-friendly package to customers to ensure that usage and upkeep are simple and intuitive.

Createc has effectively addressed these obstacles with support from DASA, refining their solution over multiple projects, which is now being implemented by Network Rail.

Introducing Createc

Cumbria-based SME, Createc was founded by a small group of researchers who shared a common desire to see their research translate quickly into real-world impact. Aiming not only to address technological challenges but also to create solutions that are viable business products.

The crowd monitoring technology took its first steps with Dstl on Project SAPIENT, which sought innovations that can help protect military base perimeters. Here, Createc, explored the idea of equipping perimeter cameras with LiDAR (a sensing method that uses laser light to measure distance), so that the cameras would have object position and recognition capabilities.

The SME then applied lessons learnt to the 2017 DASA competition, Improving Crowd Resilience: Phase 1, which sought to explore unconventional concepts to mitigate the use of explosives and weapons in public spaces. Createc submitted an innovation called SLATE-CMA (Crowd Monitoring and Alerts), which transformed their initial defence idea into a security-oriented solution. They adapted the LiDAR technology to focus on autonomously monitoring crowds at locations such as airports and train stations, to help detect early signs of potential threats. The solution works by equipping users with:

  • Multiple LiDAR based tracking units and cameras which can capture and help contextualise crowd data including crowd size and speed size (without identifying individuals)

  • A machine learning system to identifying changes in crowd patterns to alert staff to events

  • A software-based viewer for security personnel to receive updates and analysis

Having secured funding, Createc refined their innovation for Phase 2 of the competition, which started in 2018.

Createc’s sensor unit and heat mapping interface

LiDAR or Leave It: Lighting the way to commercialisation

Once the primary challenge area of crowd monitoring was addressed, Createc redirected its attention towards improving product commercialization. Their focus shifted to user-friendly implementation and everyday value, rather than a single use technology only beneficial in rare terrorist attack situations.

Their next proposal leaned further into machine learning to offer users a day-to-day system that notifies them of events requiring attention to help improve crowd management and safety. This could include notifications of suspicious activity, as well as incidents like a person falling, a malfunctioning escalator or elevator, or predications of how public transport delays can affect crowd flow.

Key benefits for security:

  • Digital ‘eyes on the ground’ that identify safety and security concerns.
  • It creates an anonymous track for each individual in the observation area, with the data being sent to cloud servers for analysis and alert generation for staff.
  • The system enables security management to gain a detailed understanding of activities in all sensor-covered areas.
  • Real-time comparison of crowd density is conducted with historical data from the same time of day, week, and year.

Put to the test at Luton Airport, Waterloo Station and Euston Station

Submitting their next project to the 2020 DASA Security Open Call, Createc’s crowd monitoring innovation underwent year-long trials at Euston Station and Luton Airport, and also a month-long trial at Waterloo Station.

The trials aimed to enhance and better understand the technology’s capabilities in practical scenarios, which included a development phase to adapt the autonomous sensors for larger environments such as airports.

Createc’s work excelled, which not only boosted the confidence of staff in handling customers but also better helped users manage resources to adapt to the fluctuating number of customers in crowded areas.

The Euston and Waterloo trials proved the system can operate in a rail station environment, producing useful alerts when crowd density surged, and helping to predict and avoid overcrowding in the station during delays. Meanwhile, the Luton Airport trial showed how the solution can be adapted to large environments with some modifications, such as increasing sensors to monitor multiple queueing systems that are common at airports.

Following the successful trials, Network Rail has acquired the autonomous crowd monitoring technology for deployment at Waterloo station in 2024.

Createc installing a sensor unit at Waterloo Station

David Clark, Director of Operations, Createc Said:

Createc has had a tremendous experience working with DASA, particularly with Situate, our Anonymous Crowd Monitoring innovation. DASA’s services have provided a solid platform for our innovation to grow and evolve. Their support has been instrumental in helping us engage with potential customers and expand our reach.

Innovations rooted in DASA and expanded to new horizons

Initially designed as a LiDAR unit for military base monitoring, before evolving into attack alert system and finally into a comprehensive commercial product for crowd monitoring and safety, the evolution of Createc’s technology has been a captivating journey, benefiting from DASA’s unique innovation mechanisms, which focuses on collaboration, adaptability, and commercialisation.

With support from organisations like DASA, the Department of Transport, Future Aviation Security Solutions, and the Connected Places Catapult, and with impending implementation by Network Rail, Createc’s future appears promising. Moving forward, the SME plans to enhance the solution for application in crowded venues like stadiums and arenas to increase revenue streams. Additionally, they are considering increasing the headcount of the organisation, and establishing a spin-out business solely to foster support for the autonomous crowd monitoring solution.

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