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More TV white space magic

Ever wondered who tried to steal your meerkat? Well, worry no longer thanks to the London Zoo, Google and CCTV biz Kinesense.

During our review of Nominet and LoveHz use of TV whitespace to create a flood early warning system in Oxford, we stumbled across another test program in the works - the use of cameras to catch poachers in Kenya.

The London Zoo won a $500,000 (£316,565) grant from Google to figure out a system for capturing poachers – a serious problem in large parts of Africa – and arrived at the idea of using White Space to do so.

To recap, White Space is that area of spectrum that is no longer use to broadcast analogue TV signals thanks to the modern wonders of digitisation. UK regulator Ofcom plans to sell this space off to mobile phone companies - and with Nominet managing to get 13Mbps through a single channel, it looks like a useful backup.

The big advantage of White Space, though, is that it doesn't require a cellular signal or DSL line, it's not line of sight and it has a pretty impressive 8km transmission radius. Because it's old tech, it also allows for a cheap rollout of devices.

What does this have to do with meerkats?

Well, CCTV firm Kinesense has software that can scan hours of video to quickly identify movement and/or colour changes. The company's CTO, Mark Sugrue, showed us how it works: you can run the footage through, or select certain areas of a picture and run it as a filter. The software will zoom through the footage and indicate the level of movement at any given period of time, even breaking out the relevant parts into separate video clips.

The software is used mostly by the police to scan hours and hours of CCTV footage for something of interest - as you can see from the company's promotional video below:

Youtube Video

Kinesense was brought in on the London Zoo project to see if the same approach could be taken with movement of animals. And so they are following the live feeds from London Zoo – specifically the meerkats' enclosure – to see what can be learned.

The upshot: as with CCTV footage, there are long periods of nothing following by brief periods of activity. Sugrue told us that it is also incredibly easy to spot when it is feeding time: there is a flash of green in the camera due to the zoo keepers' green jackets, followed by a pause and then a sudden flurry of activity as the meerkats first hide and then come piling out to eat.

The theory is that the same technology can be applied to poachers. The camera resolution does not have to be high - Kinesense can work with below PAL frame rates and require only 5-10 pixels to start making sense of what it's seeing.

And thanks to the tech, it is possible to roll out cheap cameras working off batteries to cover a wide range of land. With low frame rates and throughput of 10Mbps and up, it is theoretically possible to run dozens of cameras on one link - all that needs to happen is that a monitoring station is within range.

When poachers do appear on the scene – most likely in large vehicles and with colours different to the animals they are killing – it should be pretty easy for the cameras to pick it up and therefore alert the authorities. Sugrue was surprised for example when an aardvark suddenly appeared in his meerkat feed. Aardvark, poacher, meerkat, elephant. It all makes sense – in theory at least.

The trial runs until the end of January. Sugrue admits he is not the person to talk about TV white space or Kenyan poachers but to his eyes the test could "highlights lots of other things that could be done with this technology".

Bet you're now wondering about the other TV white space tests, including ferry-to-land comms and digital signage... ®

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