Two brothers from Wisconsin, USA, have just patented a system which uses visual information to complement other data in order to generate the ‘crime profile’ of different neighbourhoods.

Generating Neighbourhood Crime Profiles Using Images from the Internet

Using images which are readily available on the Internet, notably those provided by Google Street View’s detailed panoramic views of urban districts worldwide, could help to ascertain the quality of life of a given neighbourhood and assess its overall crime rate. This is what two computer engineers, Dominic and Tom Trinko are proposing. They argue that images showing graffiti on walls, bars on windows, burnt-out cars and empty spaces between houses could be used to supplement other crime data so as to generate more accurate ‘crime mapping’.

Visual clues supplementing open data and privately-held statistics

The two inventors see the technology as an ‘out of the box’ way to address some of the difficulties inherent in building out sets of data related to crime. “We believe that people visiting unfamiliar cities need and want to be aware at-a-glance of where there are concentrations of crime,” explains Tom Trinko. The brothers are confident that their model can provide “additional veracity” to both publicly available and privately held crime data, enabling maps to be drawn up that provide useful visual clues. “Humans actually rely heavily on visual cues in their whereabouts to evaluate the likely safety of their surroundings.  It stands to reason that algorithms can be created to make these same sorts of visual evaluations and that data can be overlaid on to another set of crime statistics, resulting in better and more relevant data,” stresses Tom Trinko.

A set of patents building a mobile mapping toolkit

A number of areas of research have led to the development of the Trinko system. The two brothers own an intellectual property licensing firm that already has three patents to its name. Their latest development builds on the CrimeAware system for crime mapping information, a patent for which was filed in October 2012. The invention is intended for mobile devices, the aim being to provide crime data mapping for GPS navigation systems and smartphones. However, while the usefulness of the Trinko invention has yet to be proven in practice, the concept might nevertheless already revive in some minds the spectre of Big Brother.

By Pierre-Marie Mateo