Creating the All-seeing Digital Eye

Not so long ago, CCTV cameras were installed mostly for surveillance and security. But a raft of integrated technologies is creating new business cases and value in sectors such as retail, hospitality, smart cities and education.

Welcome to the world of “beyond surveillance,” where technology overlays on surveillance camera are writing another chapter in the story of organizational transformation.

Firstly, of course, there was analog surveillance, with the uniformed security guard staring at multiple screens from a desk.

As technology developed with the advent of digital, a wide range of new opportunities opened up as surveillance moved from an area of sunken costs to one that can create some positive ROI.

An Eye for Details

In this transition, surveillance becomes data before transforming into business intelligence. The camera behaves more like an IoT sensor.

Many organizations are adding connected cameras with sensors to existing camera networks to create the opportunity for further innovation, working with the data and adding analytics and automation.

The technology has been evolving over several years, but add on artificial intelligence, better facial recognition and analytics, and we are on a cusp of some game-changing applications.

Caught an international flight lately? Did the passport officer stare into your face and check it with your mug shot or did you look into a camera which matched your face with the passport image?

Gartner says that while the government will be the initial driver of biometric applications in immigration, social security and surveillance, corporate adoption will take off when ultimately biometric readers are embedded in hardware such as notebooks.

Vision for Co-creation

In Australia, the market is proving to be fertile ground. The U.S. company Milestone Systems recently beefed up its presence here as it builds out its business and take advantage of the opportunities.

Milestone offers an "experience center" in Melbourne where other vendors and developers can work with its open platform VMS environment to create new solutions in areas like facial recognition, heat mapping or people counting.

Thermal cameras, for example, are proving their value for retailers who want particular kinds of people counting solutions. Thermal counters are very unobtrusive and use thermal imaging technology to note temperature changes in people compared with the environment.

Other people counters chart movement through designated areas and collect entries and exits in real time, information that can be used to understand customer flows.

Australian tertiary institution Swinburne University is using IVA technology with its more than 1,000 cameras in a solution that only became viable once the system had gone fully IP.

Swinburne takes video recordings from four of its campuses around Melbourne and uses a range of solutions installed on the Milestone platform to detect abnormal behavior, such as fights and disturbances, a person falling over injured or a car driving the wrong way.

Say security is interested in "Person A" who is acting strangely. Instead of having to follow the person on different screens manually, the tools "follow" them and shows the cameras they are walking toward. Security also doesn’t need to remember which camera they should switch to as the system does it for them.

Looking Beyond Security

The system is not used solely for security. In the Swinburne library, the people counting data captured from the cameras is used to understand which areas are overloaded, which areas need to expand and which services are used more than others.

It has been extended to study areas, with the data available to students in phone apps so they can go to areas where there are vacancies.

In Singapore, Milestone is fitting police cars with up to 10 cameras which automate an essential police task: finding unregistered or blacklisted car license plates. Instead of having to look and check license plates physically, the cameras highlight problematic plates automatically.

Then there is the move away from fixed cameras toward other sensors and mobile cameras worn on the body. Milestone forecasts that these devices will soon enough comprise around 50 percent of camera feeds and that the number of connected body-worn cameras will reach 50 million.

This technology has come far, but it has much further to go. A key message is that the "T" in the Internet of Things doesn't exclusively have to be an inanimate thing.