Higher capacity broadband increasing the accuracy of security video by allowing it to harness high-definition technology.
By Nelson Bennett, Business in Vancouver, November 29 - December 5; issue 1153
A child goes missing during a baseball game at Rogers Centre in Toronto – led away by a stranger. Stadium security determines where the boy was seated and reviews video footage, zooms in to pinpoint where and when he went missing and clearly identifies both the child and the man who led him away. The scenario is hypothetical. Fortunately, for any child who goes missing at Rogers Centre, the technology is not hypothetical – it’s already in place.
Recent advances in technology are allowing high-definition video over Internet Protocol (IP) to outclass analogue video surveillance systems in every way – including cost, according to Avigilon Corp. (TSX:AVO), the Vancouver company that makes the video surveillance system at Rogers Centre. “With just 19 16-megapixel cameras, they’re able to do facial identification of all 50,000 people in the stadium when it’s full,” said Avigilon CEO Alexander Fernandes. “And that’s about a $300,000 system. You would need 1,500 conventional analogue cameras to do the same thing, and that would cost you about $2 million.”
Despite the superiority of high-definition IP video technology, Fernandes estimates that 80% of all new video surveillance equipment being bought today is still old-school, low-definition analogue video. But he predicts those numbers will be reversed within four to five years. “IP HD cameras are going to overtake the market,” he said.
Think closed-circuit TV (CCTV), and you’re likely to picture the grey, grainy video shown in Crimestoppers ads about bank robberies, where you can barely make out the facial features of the suspects. Fernandes believes those images will be history in a few years, as IP-based digital video replaces analogue CCTV. Analogue video cameras are typically hard-wired with coaxial cable to a monitoring station, whereas high-def IP-based video is streamed over the Internet.
The capacity to transmit video over the Internet is not new. But bandwidth limits prevented high-definition images – which take up a lot of data – from being streamed seamlessly. But as telecoms continue to build bigger “pipes” to increase bandwidth, the market has been opened up to a whole new generation of high-definition video surveillance. “When you’re in the analogue domain, your performance is limited,” Fernandes said. “You’re not going to get a high-definition system running on analogue.”
When clients ask for video surveillance systems these days, Leo Knight, COO of Paladin Security Group Ltd., said he recommends IP-based systems, including Avigilon’s. “I’m a security guy,” he said, “so I’m excited by the prospect of what it can do for my clients.”
IP-based cameras combined with sensors allow security companies to create virtual patrols. Fence alarms that use sensors can be unreliable because they can be triggered by animals and result in a lot of false alarms. But when IP-based systems and pan-tilt-zoom cameras are integrated into the system, it becomes more practical.
Knight said these systems typically work on zones. When an alarm is triggered by a sensor along a fenceline, for example, a camera goes live and zooms in, allowing security experts to see what triggered the alarm in real-time and high definition. Such systems are already used in the resource sector to monitor pipelines and private and public utilities.
“Sitting here in Burnaby, for an installation I have in Fort McMurray, for example, we can bring up the floor plan, click on a camera icon and get real-time images,” Knight said.
Improvements in resolution and bandwidth aren’t the only advances being made in video surveillance. Coquitlam-based Cantronic Systems Inc. (TSX-V:CTS) makes a range of video surveillance software and hardware, including infrared cameras. Cantronic has a subsidiary in Beijing that makes video analytics software that uses algorithms that can be integrated into video monitoring systems for things like facial recognition and licence plate capture. The software is already widely used in China, where cameras are installed throughout cities like Beijing. The algorithms allow all licence plate numbers of all cars passing along a highway to be captured and stored. It’s used mostly by authorities for traffic enforcement and accident investigations.
“It’s very useful in the crime prevention environment,” said Cantronic CEO James Zahn. He said solving hit-and-run accidents is one application. If authorities know the time and place of an accident, they can use Cantronic algorithms to calculate which cars may have been involved in an accident. Cantronic also makes thermal imaging cameras that are used in airports to detect people with high fevers during flu epidemics.