Surf's Up for VMS and Analytics

When you picture some of the world's most beautiful beaches, you're no doubt envisioning long, curving expanses of white sand, clear blue waters and the soundscape of rolling waves. What may be missing from your mental scenario are the hidden dangers-powerful currents capable of sweeping an unassuming swimmer or surfer out to sea, or massive waves that can wreak havoc on everything in their path, not to mention dangers caused by the slower erosion of coastlines and other environmental hazards affecting humans and animals.

Born from its founders' love of nature and seeking to provide fellow surfers with real-time wave and water conditions, Coastalwatch is an innovative Australian company that has the world's coastlines under its high-tech eyes with networks of private- and publicly-owned surveillance cameras. CoastalCOMS (the company's division) monitors several beaches along Australia's Gold Coast, as well as coastal areas in western and southern U.S., Hawaii and Denmark.

Employing a set of sophisticated analytics they developed, CoastalCOMS services the needs of international marine first responders and coastal managers by delivering environmental and marine data from beaches around the globe. CoastalCOMS' cloud-hosted solutions monitor shorelines for state and local agencies worldwide, delivered via integration with Amazon Web services and various private cloud offerings.

The CoastalCOMS monitoring platform uses Milestone XProtect IP Video Management Software to provide live video surveillance integrated with the company's own analytics solutions. CoastalCOMS' analytics software and multi-national network of hosted coastal cameras are also used for the collection of real-time data, such as wave height and wave period analysis, vessel monitoring, people counting on beaches, as well as tracking changes in the shoreline and general beach states. The software allows them to create 'networks' of coastal cameras on the fly, patterning and sourcing video from both new and existing beach cameras according to each customer's needs. The video is then processed in real time for different groups based on their reporting needs and workflows.

Specifically designed to capture risk information about the powerful and unpredictable ocean environment, CoastalCOMS analytics dynamically measure individual waves and wave periods, while examining the shore and waterlines to determine the areas of change and identify hazards. Unique to the CoastalCOMS analytics offering, data is presented with a "level of confidence" metric associated with each measured output, ensuring both context and trust in the analytics results.

With the XProtect API, CoastalCOMS-enabled cameras can automatically re-position themselves based on alerts from external sensors or data feeds, such as a status change in an emergency management system, a Weather Service warning or alert, or a measured change that happens in front of the camera.

Coastalwatch uses primarily Sony cameras in their own network and the networks they install for clients. Their current solutions include a blend of Sony RZ25s with SNTEX101s in place, a huge installed base of Sony RZ50s and a growing number of the newer HD lines including the SNCRH164 HD domes and the bullet style SNCCH180 HD cameras.

Algorithms to analyze lifecycle water levels

CoastalCOMS is building on their years of research and expertise by applying their algorithms to analyze water levels throughout the watershed in areas like rivers, estuaries and flood plains. This application can provide valuable information for both private and government projects with a focus on emergency response, preparedness and risk management.

"Coastal customers we've spoken with over the past few years who have overlapping responsibility for watershed management or emergency services in watershed environments have been looking for ways to visually confirm data from existing in-situation sensors," said Tim Chandler, president and CEO of CoastalCOMS. "Video water leveling is not new science, but it is challenging to get this form of video analytics to work broadly. Many of the emergency management organizations we know work within response frameworks that mandate some form of visual confirmations on sensor data when rapid rises or falls in water levels are detected," he said. "We are announcing the addition of video-derived water leveling to aid planners and risk managers concerned with rising or falling water levels in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, estuaries or wetlands and in-land waterways. We expect general availability of that processing in third quarter 2011 and a customer pilot program is currently under way."

Extending the company's abilities to monitor and alert on dynamic environmental risk variables throughout drainage basins and catchments, CoastalCOMS is working to service customer requests in line with their existing portfolio of VCA (video content analytics) offerings for water managers and safety organizations around the world.

Unique analytics integration

"Using XProtect software we were able to turn a network of hundreds of cameras into a single manageable asset," explained Steve Hromyko, COO at CoastalCOMS. "Once in place we could then focus on optimizing our service offerings. Using Milestone's SDK and tapping into their data stores we were able to build a fully automated service to process and analyze video. We use Milestone rules and time profiles to manipulate cameras and extract video that we then feed into our digital asset management system for processing," he said. "We've built an engine into which we are able to feed and efficiently process video without the need for human manipulation and the Milestone software has made this possible. The result has been a reduction in processing run times from hours to minutes," Hromyko said.

With the XProtect API, CoastalCOMS-enabled cameras also have the ability to automatically re-position themselves based on alerts from existing external sensors or data feeds, such as a status change in a pressure sensor, a Weather Service warning or alert, or a measured change that happens in front of the camera.

"By integrating external sensors and data feeds into our core platform, we can fully automate and drive cameras based on environmental change," added Chandler. "This is a step beyond many more traditional content analytics offerings that provide CoastalCOMS customers with an unprecedented ability to gather information and images to better understand conditions and coordinate responses in the event of emergency. Recorded information also supports review and training and inspires confidence in the measurements," he said.

Chandler said systems integrators can leverage CoastalCOMS' expertise, experience and video analysis services to augment Milestone surveillance systems being installed in beach or water environments, giving partners the ability to service their customers in ways no one else can, which makes a difference in winning projects.

"For example, security industry systems integrators may be working with a city, state or national government body to plan a surveillance installation for a port or harbor, where adding CoastalCOMS analytics and cloud-hosted technology lifts the end-results up to a far higher level of safety and response capabilities. A key parameter is using software with open platform capabilities: Milestone XProtect lets us leverage the interoperability of our analytics with our efficient cloud approach that's ideal for physically widespread or other milieu challenges in such implementations," said Hromyko.

Chandler said he is seeing a growing demand for specialized content analytics. "The strong and lasting relationships that are possible when you're truly addressing a specific need can be very gratifying, both from a personal and a business standpoint. It's good to see the space growing," he confirmed. "That said, the proliferation of analysis systems also introduces a challenge in that the accuracy of content analytics outputs can vary greatly. Some users we encounter seem to operate with an unquantifiable 'acceptable level of failure' expected from the system. Our staff continually reminds me that analytics systems are only as good as the time we take to calibrate them and then they can still be less than perfect given changing conditions. We are addressing the need to avoid accuracy issues by offering a new, configurable output to our users that is an honest assessment of each measurement and alarm we generate," Chandler explained.

Watching the earth via the clouds

CoastalCOMS began its own transition to a virtual environment years ago and by 2008 they were running most of their systems 100 percent offsite, not just in virtualized data centers but across public clouds like Amazon Web Services and private clouds in Australia.

"Using our hosted platform we've deployed 3G/4G mobile surveillance units with Hawaiian guards, using a Sony SNC RZ50N camera that automatically reports to the cloud when turned on, notifying lifeguards and IT support when the cameras are deployed on the beach. This unit also has a VoIP loud hailer for communication of warnings to the beach-going public. The fact that these units are movable means cameras can be deployed when and where they are needed, automatically giving remote eyes to lifeguards in areas of concern," explained Chandler.

In January, Coastalwatch was awarded the 2011 Pioneer Award at the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame Awards for CoastalCOMS WavePak processing technology. The annual award is given to a person, group or organization that has broken new ground and contributed to the enhancement and innovation of surfing.

Specifically designed to capture information about the powerful and unpredictable ocean environment, CoastalCOMS analytics dynamically measure individual waves as well as periods of wave movement, examining the shore and waterlines to determine the areas of change and identify hazards.

"Rips form based on the dynamic changes in coastal environments and rips are a major cause of death by drowning. Monitoring beaches and proactively identifying dangerous conditions helps first responders identify hazards and manage risk on remote, public beaches," concluded Chandler.

Grant Gets Ball Rolling for CoastalCOMS

CoastalCOMS' work in analytics started almost 10 years ago with a grant backed by the Australian Research Council, partnering with the Gold Coast City Council and Griffith University. Initial work centered on using surf cameras for remote sensing on beaches, with following work under the Queensland Government's Smart State Initiative focusing on identification of beach hazards for risk assessment in life saving areas.

Over the years, working with grant partners like Surf Life Saving Australia, Surf Life Saving Queensland, Griffith University and Gold Coast City Council, CoastalCOMS has reached a point where it is now a grant partner in one of the largest beach video processing efforts to date. From 2011 to 2013 CoastalCOMS will work with partners University of New South Wales, Macquarie Unversity, University of Plymoth (UK), NSW Department of Climate Change and coastal councils to complete a three-year study of 10 beaches using CoastalCOMS analytics for beach width and shoreline studies.