Image is everything. Marketing people have been telling us that for years, and a popular maker of consumer cameras has even used it as an advertising slogan. It may be a simplistic overstatement, but for the security industry right now, image, if not everything, is “the thing.”
The way we capture and analyze video images is rapidly changing the industry and the scope of services provided. We are in the midst of a dramatic transition in video technology and applications, with video analytics as a key driver.
Video analytics bring sophisticated information technology to security solutions and move typical systems beyond basic security. They not only provide information that can help secure people and property; they improve business processes and productivity.
Part of the convergence in the industry is the blending of digital analytic software and firmware with typical security applications such as access control and video monitoring. This merging of technologies is producing a powerful set of business tools that take security solutions to new and higher levels.
Traditionally, electronic security has been reactive, meaning the system waits for a security event to occur. The event trips an alarm and the system reacts. Analytics “see” much more than the standard system and do more than react to security breaches. They use algorithms that can detect behaviors and actions that may lead to security events, and they can help identify security vulnerabilities in the environment. This makes for a proactive system that may prevent certain actions or, at least, allow for a quicker and more effective reaction.
The data gathered from analytics also provides insight that can lead to proactive design improvements in security solutions. With analytics, security professionals can more quickly identify problem areas or trouble spots and work to build in measures to secure these areas.
The evolution of analytics has been dramatic over the last few years. Currently, some applications are more consistent and reliable than others. The more highly refined and proven technologies include the following.
Perimeter Protection. A number of companies offer software that can help detect objects entering a predefined area. The software or the user creates a virtual electronic tripwire. When an object crosses this virtual line, the software starts recording input from cameras focused on the area.
Left Object. Analytic software can accurately identify new static changes to the video field. For example, it can alert operators to a briefcase left unattended in an airport terminal or new graffiti spray painted on a building.
Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR). This technology captures vehicle license plate numbers and automatically searches an extensive database to match them with registration information. Law enforcement officials can quickly retrieve vehicle ownership information directly from the software. It also can track movement of assets marked with a number plate, such as shipping containers.
Line (Queue) Analysis. Retailers know that long checkout lines turn away customers. Software that analyzes checkout lines is useful in helping plan staffing levels and in providing better customer service. This technology can also provide a long-queue alert in real time so the store manager can redeploy staff to the registers.
People Counting. Aptly named, this software counts people as they enter a business or area. It provides businesses with valuable information on traffic patterns and timing. Also, when combined with point-of-sale (POS) data, people counting can calculate conversion rates (i.e., sales per customer entering store), which are key metrics for retailers. As people counting is refined to the department level, it will provide even more specific and detailed data.
POS Exception Analysis. Retailers have been analyzing point-of-sale information for a number of years, but the new video analytics provide intelligent monitoring that can recognize activities such as a void or cash return transaction with no one in line. The event is automatically recorded, described and stored.
Flow Analysis. This tool learns typical flow patterns in a busy store, airport or other public area. It will recognize when the flow pattern is disrupted. For instance, it would record and store an event where someone is walking in the opposite direction of the traffic flow.
Other, more complex analytics are still being refined and perfected.
Facial Recognition. This software recognizes facial structures as an authentication mechanism in cooperative access control situations where an employee allows a match of his or her face with an existing photo. While facial recognition can be useful in non-cooperative or passive situations, such as scanning individuals passing through choke points, it is still being fully developed and polished.
Behavior Anomalies. Software that looks for behavior that is out of the norm is now being developed. For example, software is being developed to tell when someone is running, fighting or acting overly agitated.
These are just some of the available video analytics tools. Many more have been and are being developed. The value of these technologies is not just that the software learns to analyze situations and triggers the DVR to record them. It also describes the captured video and then distributes these descriptions (called metadata) for storage and analysis. In perimeter protection, for example, the software “sees” something cross the tripwire, records and compresses the video, and labels it with a description such as “car enters perimeter.” Using a protected Web site, these databases can be centralized and easily shared.
The advantages of gathering video using analytics are enormous. Analytics ensure that only relevant activities are recorded or forwarded. As a result, less video is transferred and stored. That requires less bandwidth and less disk space. And since the storage and handling of large amounts of video can be burdensome, analytics help keep the volume of recorded video to a minimum and can justify maintaining only “video of interest.”
Another major benefit of analytics is more efficient forensic processing. The retrieval of relevant video becomes much easier. It no longer takes a security officer hours to find the video clips of a car or cars passing through the tripwire over an extended period of time. With analytics, the video is already labeled in a data file and can be retrieved with ease. This is a huge time saver.
Analytics are at the forefront of a dramatic transition in video monitoring and in the security industry in general. The capabilities of analytics are rapidly changing. Over the next few years, changes will come even more quickly. New algorithms will produce more sophisticated software capable of learning patterns and distinguishing behaviors. Prices will fall as algorithms become embedded in more solutions. The sharing of video will become easier. Over the next three years, video will be used increasingly for applications other than security.
Businesses will outsource data analysis and storage to take advantage of highly specialized analytics on demand without incurring the total cost. Complex post analytics will be completed on existing video for specific analysis. All of this means that analytics will continue to push the explosion in video and the information we can gather. Video solutions will be smarter and more efficient. The business of security will look very different from five years ago. It will be based on business applications and will allow for more effective security solutions that are specific to each end user's needs.
Nicholas Samanich is director of strategic product planning for ADT Security Services Inc.