Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Vision system helps students find a place in the library

A team of researchers from the Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken NJ, USA) have developed a vision-based system that will enable students to find a seat in the university’s library during the busiest periods of the semester.

“We noticed that we and many of our fellow students spent precious study time looking for seating in the S.C. Williams library,” says team leader and computer engineer Richard Sanchez.

But rather than grumble and head back to their dormitories, computer engineer Sanchez’ team decided to develop a system to solve the problem once and for all. Called Seatfinder, it's an innovative way of detecting what seats are available in the library that uses image processing to identify the presence of an individual.

With the assistance of Professor Bruce McNair, Distinguished Service Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering and the Stevens IT department, the team deployed an IP camera with network connectivity to capture a live feed from the library.

After capturing images of the seating, the IP camera transmits a live video feed over a wired network to a remote computer using an open source application called iSpy. Next, a motion detection algorithm is used to trigger a snapshot of the live camera feed any time an individual leaves or enters a table in the library.

The team's code then processes the captured image to determine which areas are free or occupied, after which it updates a website with an image that represents occupied and empty chairs around the table. By checking the web site, other students can then find a space to sit and study a lot more quickly.

Having successfully proven their system, the Seatfinder team now hopes to add more cameras and monitor more tables to increase the sophistication of the system. Eventually they envision deploying it at other venues where space can become scarce, such as restaurants, movie theatres or parking lots.

But I can see even more opportunities for the system, one of which is on public transportation. If you have ever traveled on any form of rail transportation in any large metropolitan area during the rush hour period, for example, you will know what a problem it is to find anywhere to sit.

While the Seatfinder system can't obviously produce more seating on a full train, if some of our rail companies could deploy such a system in each of their carriages, it would reduce the time that hapless commuters spend walking up and down the carriages in the desperate hope of finding a spare seat. Those commuters lucky enough to be able to access a website from the train, that is.

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