Research Foundation News

December 17, 2020

Public cameras provide valuable insights on pandemic, consumers

Patented systems may help reduce misinformation in media

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Technology similar to massive search engines used to scour the web may soon be used to provide new insights into consumer behavior and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on economies across the world. The technology also may be a useful tool for reducing misinformation in news media.

Purdue University innovators have created several patented technologies that they combined into a computer system to acquire and analyze real-time visual data from millions of globally distributed network cameras. The innovators define network cameras as those connected to the Internet and continuously capturing data.

“We know there are millions of these cameras around the world and we wanted to create ways to better use them for research and business purposes,” said Yung-Hsiang Lu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in Purdue’s College of Engineering. “Our systems allow users to pull real-time information and analyze the data to produce actionable results. A user can see what is happening at this moment in different parts of the world.”

The Purdue team’s system automatically discovers thousands of network cameras in public spaces. It is possible to create a computer program that saves image data and downloads videos about every 10 minutes, and the data recorded from these cameras can be sent to cloud data centers for processing.

“This technology has such a wide range of applications, from malls using camera data to understand their consumers to news organizations being able to use network cameras to validate facts without risking the lives of journalists being sent to dangerous areas,” Lu said. “Our systems also provide important information for the pandemic. They can be used to observe behavior, such as the reactions around the world once vaccines are administered.”

Lu said the camera data also provides valuable insights into economies around the world, such as looking at the videos to see the crowd sizes at public spaces and retail locations.

Some of the work has received funding from the National Science Foundation. The Purdue researchers also published part of their work on arXiv.

The team worked with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization to patent their technologies.

The innovators are looking for partners to continue developing and commercializing their technology. For more information on licensing and other opportunities, contact Matt Halladay at OTC at

A Purdue student, Fischer Bordwell, has formed a startup called Alethia LLC to commercialize the technology.

Lu is the director of the John Martinson Engineering Entrepreneurial Center. He helped two teams of Purdue students start technology companies. These two companies have raised more than $1.5 million in funding.

About Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization

The Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology transfer programs among leading research universities in the U.S. Services provided by this office support the economic development initiatives of Purdue University and benefit the university's academic activities through commercializing, licensing and protecting Purdue intellectual property. The office recently moved into the Convergence Center for Innovation and Collaboration in Discovery Park District, adjacent to the Purdue campus. In fiscal year 2020, the office reported 148 deals finalized with 225 technologies signed, 408 disclosures received and 180 issued U.S. patents. The office is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2019 Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Award for Place from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. In 2020, IPWatchdog Institute ranked Purdue third nationally in startup creation and in the top 20 for patents. The Purdue Research Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation created to advance the mission of Purdue University. Contact for more information.      

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked the No. 5 Most Innovative University in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at

Writer: Chris Adam, 

Yung-Hsiang Lu,

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