Crowds, Surveillance, Tracking, Motion


Computer vision algorithms have played a pivotal role in commercial video surveillance systems for a number of years. However, a common weakness among these systems is their inability to handle crowded scenes. In this thesis, we have developed algorithms that overcome some of the challenges encountered in videos of crowded environments such as sporting events, religious festivals, parades, concerts, train stations, airports, and malls. We adopt a top-down approach by first performing a global-level analysis that locates dynamically distinct crowd regions within the video. This knowledge is then employed in the detection of abnormal behaviors and tracking of individual targets within crowds. In addition, the thesis explores the utility of contextual information necessary for persistent tracking and re-acquisition of objects in crowded scenes. For the global-level analysis, a framework based on Lagrangian Particle Dynamics is proposed to segment the scene into dynamically distinct crowd regions or groupings. For this purpose, the spatial extent of the video is treated as a phase space of a time-dependent dynamical system in which transport from one region of the phase space to another is controlled by the optical flow. Next, a grid of particles is advected forward in time through the phase space using a numerical integration to generate a "flow map". The flow map relates the initial positions of particles to their final positions. The spatial gradients of the flow map are used to compute a Cauchy Green Deformation tensor that quantifies the amount by which the neighboring particles diverge over the length of the integration. The maximum eigenvalue of the tensor is used to construct a forward Finite Time Lyapunov Exponent (FTLE) field that reveals the Attracting Lagrangian Coherent Structures (LCS). The same process is repeated by advecting the particles backward in time to obtain a backward FTLE field that reveals the repelling LCS. The attracting and repelling LCS are the time dependent invariant manifolds of the phase space and correspond to the boundaries between dynamically distinct crowd flows. The forward and backward FTLE fields are combined to obtain one scalar field that is segmented using a watershed segmentation algorithm to obtain the labeling of distinct crowd-flow segments. Next, abnormal behaviors within the crowd are localized by detecting changes in the number of crowd-flow segments over time. Next, the global-level knowledge of the scene generated by the crowd-flow segmentation is used as an auxiliary source of information for tracking an individual target within a crowd. This is achieved by developing a scene structure-based force model. This force model captures the notion that an individual, when moving in a particular scene, is subjected to global and local forces that are functions of the layout of that scene and the locomotive behavior of other individuals in his or her vicinity. The key ingredients of the force model are three floor fields that are inspired by research in the field of evacuation dynamics; namely, Static Floor Field (SFF), Dynamic Floor Field (DFF), and Boundary Floor Field (BFF). These fields determine the probability of moving from one location to the next by converting the long-range forces into local forces. The SFF specifies regions of the scene that are attractive in nature, such as an exit location. The DFF, which is based on the idea of active walker models, corresponds to the virtual traces created by the movements of nearby individuals in the scene. The BFF specifies influences exhibited by the barriers within the scene, such as walls and no-entry areas. By combining influence from all three fields with the available appearance information, we are able to track individuals in high-density crowds. The results are reported on real-world sequences of marathons and railway stations that contain thousands of people. A comparative analysis with respect to an appearance-based mean shift tracker is also conducted by generating the ground truth. The result of this analysis demonstrates the benefit of using floor fields in crowded scenes. The occurrence of occlusion is very frequent in crowded scenes due to a high number of interacting objects. To overcome this challenge, we propose an algorithm that has been developed to augment a generic tracking algorithm to perform persistent tracking in crowded environments. The algorithm exploits the contextual knowledge, which is divided into two categories consisting of motion context (MC) and appearance context (AC). The MC is a collection of trajectories that are representative of the motion of the occluded or unobserved object. These trajectories belong to other moving individuals in a given environment. The MC is constructed using a clustering scheme based on the Lyapunov Characteristic Exponent (LCE), which measures the mean exponential rate of convergence or divergence of the nearby trajectories in a given state space. Next, the MC is used to predict the location of the occluded or unobserved object in a regression framework. It is important to note that the LCE is used for measuring divergence between a pair of particles while the FTLE field is obtained by computing the LCE for a grid of particles. The appearance context (AC) of a target object consists of its own appearance history and appearance information of the other objects that are occluded. The intent is to make the appearance descriptor of the target object more discriminative with respect to other unobserved objects, thereby reducing the possible confusion between the unobserved objects upon re-acquisition. This is achieved by learning the distribution of the intra-class variation of each occluded object using all of its previous observations. In addition, a distribution of inter-class variation for each target-unobservable object pair is constructed. Finally, the re-acquisition decision is made using both the MC and the AC.


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Graduation Date



Shah, Mubarak


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Degree Program

Computer Science








Release Date

April 2008

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)