Hangin’ with Harrington

Video surveillance is being elevated to an art form as more and more “smart” cameras hit the market, delivering crystal clear, color images. They are a far cry from the old, grainy black-&-white ones that were commonplace not really all that long ago. Smart cameras are finding their way into many installations and applications, specifically those where clearly no cost should be spared when designing systems to protect heavy civil facilities such as dams, waterways, tunnels, bridges, airports, light rail facilities and the like.

So, what exactly, constitutes today’s “smart” cameras? Ray Shilling Vice President, Sales & Marketing for AvaLAN, a leader in 900MHz Point-to-Point Non LOS (Line of Sight) Ethernet Bridge Technologies, explains. Three of the most important features of smart cameras, he says, are: 1) alarm-event-based video capture and recording, 2) image processing and recognition, and 3) local video storage capabilities.

The new smart cameras record data in a digital format, making the review process of surveillance much easier. “Many security-related technologies that were once standalone analog devices are now IP-based and interconnected,” Shilling says. “Security cameras are perhaps the most notable of these. To meet a rising customer demand, specialty firms along with several of the large multi-national consumer electronic companies, are releasing smart network-based camera technologies with built-in intelligent algorithms that can perform critical functions that extend the reach and effectiveness of the security team.”

Smart cameras being released now support image analysis algorithms. One example is to check facial features against a known database of wrong-doers, according to Shilling. “In this way, a small initial burst of data (three or four discrete JPEG files) is sent to the processing server for analysis,” he says.

“If the analysis renders a positive result, the camera can then be directed to send a continuous stream of video data over the network,” Shilling continues. “The image analysis can also include the ability to discern real threats from harmless activities, such as a cat crossing the field of view or a large piece of paper blowing by. This allows the camera and server to make decisions and separate the wheat from the chaff without human involvement saving valuable resources and/or allowing the customer to place more devices on a given network segment.”

Another advantage that Shilling points out is that smart cameras can also store video content in the camera itself, without having to send any data over the network until requested. For example, using this simple approach, at less critical locations the camera can store data overnight until the security team is ready to evaluate the content the following day.

Demand Goes Up…Price Goes Down
Due to that fact that smart cameras require more powerful processors and memory capacities, manufacturers also have to recoup R & D costs expended during the earlier versions of the product. Consequently, smart cameras typically cost more than traditional ones. Increased demand will result in more releases into the marketplace and should drive prices down.

“As processor and memory storage prices continue to fall,” Shilling observes “This will allow manufacturers to offer more robust cameras to the marketplace at lower prices. Since these smart features are primarily software-based functions, the costs are easily driven down once the R & D costs are recaptured by the manufacturers.”

Yes, cost is definitely a factor for dealers choosing between a smart camera install or a traditional one. There are a few ways to look at it. Paul Bodell, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for IQinvision, points out, “If you compare an IQeye to a camera, it is more expensive. If you compare a system built with traditional resolution cameras to a system built with IQeye multi-megapixel cameras, it’s significantly less expensive. This is because an IQeye offers up to 16 times the coverage area of a traditional camera, meaning you would need 16 traditional cameras to provide the same resolution. When you add the cost of installing those 16 cameras, with lenses, housings, etc., the IQeye is downright cheap!”

Yacov Pshtissky, Vice President Technology and Development for Vicon, adds, “Cameras with basic motion detection, such as the VFT and X23, have motion detection as a standard feature without added cost. Our LAN solutions for VFT, VN-755 and V910-IP have a higher, more sophisticated motion detection capability and are included as a standard feature of the camera. Cameras with Image Tracking or facial recognition, on the other hand, can multiply the cost by 10.”

According to Esra Kahraman, Vice President of Marketing, GVI Samsung, smart cameras can cost anywhere from 10% to 45% more than traditional cameras.

So why should dealers choose a smart camera? “One camera may fit a wider range of regular and challenging applications,” she states.

“They bond perfectly with network environments such as IP devices and command and control centers,” Kahraman continues. “Medium and highly integrated systems are the most suitable applications for smart cameras.”

Bodell points out additional advantages of going the smart route. “Smart cameras provide images with incredible detail,” he says. “If the end user has an incident, they can see exactly what happened. And, high resolution means reduced systems cost; installing fewer cameras costs less, is less invasive and means fewer products to support.”

Shilling offers one word of caution, however: While it can be tempting to always specify the latest camera with the most bells and whistles, more complex devices are not necessarily always the right answer. In many cases, high-end smart cameras are overkill and most of the features may very well go unused if the user is not carefully trained on the technology. However, for those instances where state-of-the-art camera intelligence can save a life, or prevent an accident or injury, then clearly the extra cost is justified.

Smart? Indeed.