Why Are Israeli Startups Leading The Tech World?Sep. 1, 2014
People lined both sides of Boylston Street, rounds of cheers going up as runners approached the end of the 2013 Boston marathon. Then white smoke plumed. Windows splintered. Fifteen seconds later, another explosion, and glass shattered onto blackened cement. The detonations knocked athletes to the ground, in some cases blowing the shoes off their feet. Three people died, and another 264 were injured.
The FBI started investigating while first responders were still rushing to the scene. Within three days -- just 101 hours -- the bombers were apprehended.
FBI agents sifted through 13,000 videos and more than 120,000 photographs, drawn from surveillance cameras and onlookers' cell phones. To sort through the piles of footage, law enforcement turned to new technology that can condense an hour of video into just a minute of playback time.
The method, called video synopsis, was invented by an Israeli company called BriefCam, which counts all the right three-letter agencies as clients. (The FBI declined to comment on the specifics of the Boston investigation.)
Video synopsis works in a variety of ways, but most programs layer actions that occur at the same place at different times, making it possible, for example, to see simultaneously every person who walks in a door on a given afternoon. Other notable inquiries have also used BriefCam, like Norway's national security service after Anders Breivik bombed a children's camp there in 2011.
Shmuel Peleg, a co-founder of BriefCam and a professor of computer science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, says the original intention for the tool was a long way from law enforcement. "One of my students had three kids," he said, and was hoping to come up with a better way of viewing their home videos. The eureka moment came when "one of our friends said most video on earth comes from stationary cameras," Peleg said. "He was in the military at the time," Peleg explained, and immediately thought of surveillance footage. Security cameras at Israel's borders watch for tunnel activity, but it can be hard to identify suspicious behavior in real time. "BriefCam makes it possible to integrate information that happens in a large temporal space," Peleg says, making it perfect for consistent monitoring.
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