An automated omnidirectional tracking system developed by researchers at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., and at Columbia University in New York promises to help secure military installations and commercial buildings. The Lehigh Omnidirectional Tracking System, or Lots, even tracks.Previous systems relied on traditional video cameras to scan a landscape, enabling infiltrators to move undetected when the camera turned its attention elsewhere. The new system, however, continuously monitors its surroundings in 360° for any movement."Lots is not the first omnidirectional camera," said Terrance Boult, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Lehigh and one of the developers of the system, "but the first specifically designed for surveillance applications." The camera, which was developed by RemoteReality Corp. of Westborough, Mass., features a pair of parabolic lenses. The first lens creates a doughnut-shaped image, which the second one flattens into a panoramic strip for reading by the digital sensor.When the system detects movement up to 50 m away, it sounds an alarm and pinpoints the location on a computerized map. A target as small as six pixels will trigger the system, Boult said.Boult and Shree K. Nayar, a professor of computer science at Columbia, wrote the algorithms to increase the system's ability to distinguish complex shapes in changing light conditions. They have been fine-tuning the system since receiving US Department of Defense funding for the project in 1997.The Lehigh system recently competed against four other technologies at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. The military has not yet released its findings, but Boult said that it would likely incorporate elements from different vendors in the final product.Any system to be used in the field must be at least 25 percent lighter than those demonstrated. Most of the reduction in weight likely will come from the power supply. Designers will have to cut the power supply's weight in half, to 5 lb, to reduce the total weight of the unit to approximately 15 lb.Commercial version in 2002Other versions are in development, including one for the US Navy that would increase the field of view on a submarine's periscope to 10 km in all directions. An infrared system for nighttime surveillance also is in the works.Boult's group expects to release a commercial tracking system in early 2002 to target corporate surveillance applications. "Security staff could watch a large area without having to keep an eye on 20 monitors," he said.