Video surveillance has long been deployed for safety and security purposes, but until recent years most installations were analog-based. These systems were severely limited, often generating grainy, blurry video that could slow down response time to incidents and bog down investigations.
But that’s the past. Today, the industry recognizes the value that IP solutions bring in terms of delivering high-quality video that can be useful for real-time monitoring and fast, efficient post-incident investigation. Advanced network cameras can offer excellent low-light performance, and they can be used to alert security personnel of potential problems, providing real-time situational awareness that can guide fast, effective and often proactive response.
One technology that has changed how IP video surveillance solutions are utilized is video analytics. This technology analyzes video captured by the camera for specific events that may indicate a potential security issue. These include cross line detection, object left behind detection, object counting and more. Advanced analytics add intelligence to cameras while opening up a number of potential security and business applications for video surveillance.
Upgrading Safety and Security
With the number and diversity of students, staff and members of the general public who visit their often large campuses, colleges and universities face a number of safety and security challenges. This is particularly true of institutions in urban areas, such as the University of Tulsa (TU).
Given incidents on U.S. campuses in recent years, the university decided to upgrade its video surveillance with more than 300, high-resolution, fixed dome and pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) IP cameras from Axis. Analytics were also embedded into the cameras to provide real-time and forensic information for investigating events. Remaining legacy cameras were integrated into the network-based surveillance solution with Axis video encoders.
One example of how this system is used is how it monitors people. TU uses cross-line detection analytics to trigger alerts when a vehicle enters the parking lot adjacent to the female dormitory between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Once alerted, security staff manually control adjacent PTZ and wide angle cameras to monitor, for example, a student parking a car and safely entering a building. Additionally, if someone is driving around the lot aimlessly or appears to be loitering, security officers can be quickly dispatched to determine the individual’s intentions.
TU also used analytics to detect objects left behind or removed from an area. For example, cameras are deployed in the Performing Arts Center, which sits on a bustling public street. Analytics allow security staff to determine where expensive artwork is located if it’s been removed from the wall or even help students locate lost backpacks.
Analytics: A Force Multiplier for Airport Security
Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB) has found that the combination of Axis cameras with integrated video analytics serves as the kind of force multiplier that security staff needs for early detection and rapid response to potentially threatening situations.
Among the applications at GRB is the ability to detect individuals walking in the wrong direction in Security Identification Display Areas (SIDA) and concourse exit lanes. When such an event occurs, analytics alert TSA agents and their airport’s Public Safety Communication Center where a live view of the incident is automatically displayed on the video wall. With multiple Axis cameras focused on this section of the airport, security can determine whether the individual in question made contact with anyone else nearby, allowing them to respond quickly to minimize the possibility of security breaches.
On runways, the airport has deployed Axis thermal cameras to monitor the movement of airplanes, service vehicles and personnel. Analytics software analyzes video images to distinguish between people, vehicles and other objects. When a person is detected in a vehicle-only lane or other restricted area, the system alerts security personnel.
Adding Intelligent Ears to Video
Similar to video analytics that provide cameras with intelligent eyes that can call attention to a situation and help security professionals better interpret what the camera sees, audio analytics supply the intelligent ears to complement those eyes. Audio analytics provide vital alerts, as well as additional context on a situation that is occurring, even if it takes place out of the camera’s view.
Operating in the acoustic realm, audio analytics listen for a complex combination of characteristics from decibel level to the energy in different frequencies over time. Programmed to ignore traffic, conversations, music and other background noise, these solutions trigger an alert in real time when they detect a specific acoustic pattern that identifies verbal aggression, gunshots, breaking glass and other sounds that may indicate potential incidents. This helps minimize the risk of false alerts in challenging environments like train platforms and prisons. When a specific sound is detected, the solution triggers an alarm to direct security staff’s attention to the potential incident, elevating situational awareness and enabling efficient and effective incident management.
Integrating advanced audio analytics into network cameras transforms the camera into an intelligent sound recognition solution. These analytics are embedded in Axis cameras to provide an extra layer of protection.
Because the audio analytics are embedded in the camera, audio processing takes place on the device, which eliminates the need for a central server. Additionally, video feeds can be streamed only when triggered by an audio event, reducing bandwidth consumption, storage needs and overall system costs. More importantly, only sound characteristics are examined, not speech content, so the system is language-independent and improves privacy protection because no continuous recording of audio or video is required.
Going Beyond Security into Business Optimization
The benefits of video and audio analytics extend beyond security, allowing video to be used for wider purposes including business optimization. The additional intelligence that can be gleaned from existing cameras can contribute to improved operations and result in a greater return on investment.
The retail industry is a prime example of a market that has embraced “beyond security” applications. This should come as no surprise considering most retailers already have cameras installed at entrances, above cash registers and in other locations throughout their stores. More likely than not, these were installed for security purposes, such as monitoring people as they enter and exit, watching to detect theft and keeping a close eye on POS transactions. Advanced analytics, however, can turn surveillance video into cross-functional video that can be used for marketing, merchandising, customer service and other general business purposes. Integration with other systems further expands the use cases for video surveillance.
Cameras with integrated analytics can help a retailer understand which areas of a store people visit and how long they stay in a particular area. The intelligence gathered from this analysis can be applied for marketing and merchandising, such as placing high-margin or big-ticket items in a well-traveled area of the store or identifying a prime location for merchandising and then charging a premium for that position. If people counting shows congested traffic flow in one or more areas, a retailer could change the configuration of the store layout to optimize movement through the store.
Analytics could also be employed to improve customer service. Long lines can be detrimental to the customer experience and lead to abandoned purchases. Cameras near checkout areas can employ queue-line analytics to alert management when lines are long, allowing them to open another register to ease the congestion and keep customers satisfied.
From a marketing perspective, a camera with embedded demographic analytics could be connected to a speaker system or digital signage to change the music or any advertisements displayed on a screen depending on the demographic information of a person entering or visiting a particular area within the store.
“Connecting the video system and demographic analytic with speakers and digital signage allows retailers to provide a more customized experience tailored to specific individuals,” said Alex Walthers, Business Development Manager, ADP, Axis Communications, Inc.
One retailer that has reaped the benefits of business optimization from intelligent surveillance is LUSH, a cosmetics company headquartered in the United Kingdom. Prior to turning to Axis’ intelligent technology, LUSH relied on a different foot-fall system to track in-store traffic. The company, however, was concerned about how accurate the system was and the potential for data to be manipulated. It also wanted to measure customer flows, conversion rates, sales per hour and in-store efficiency and effectiveness. With that, LUSH replaced the system with AXIS People Counter and reporting system. With this system in place, LUSH was able to obtain a more transparent view into its operations.
Using cameras equipped with AXIS People Counter and AXIS Queue Monitor, analytics have provided LUSH with accurate, up-to-date information that has proven valuable for making the best staffing and customer service decisions. Store managers now receive daily reports with bi-directional information boiled down to 15-minute intervals throughout the course of the day. Integrating this information with head office became fast and simple and allowed for further research using the company’s business intelligence and visualization tools to identify potential improvements in store operations.
For instance, based on analysis of customer flow, LUSH can add staff to help during certain times of the day. Measuring the flow of customers and thus maintaining adequate staffing levels can help LUSH ensure customer satisfaction levels remain high and operations run smoothly.
Integrating with IoT
A major trend both in the security industry and in the world at large is the ever-increasing number and types of systems and devices that offer network connectivity, commonly referred to as the internet of things (IoT). As more and more varied systems and devices are interconnected and integrated, video surveillance and other solutions are able to deliver even greater intelligence that provides operator guards, first responders and others with vital situational awareness the chance to improve the speed and effectiveness of response to incidents or threats.
There are also a number of non-security applications for these interconnected systems that expand the use of video even farther beyond security and business intelligence. One such potential application is smart lighting integrated with video surveillance.
“In an office environment, cameras can be used to detect where people are sitting and turn lights on and off accordingly,” Walthers said. “This could also be expanded to include heating or air conditioning as well, which contributes to more efficient energy usage.”
Video analytics can also be deployed to improve the efficiency of parking, which is a frustration that can negatively impact quality of life. Using an object-counting video analytic, parking companies and municipalities provide drivers with up-to-date information about open spots, which can make parking less of a challenge.
“Anyone who’s ever driven into a parking garage knows how much time can be spent circling through levels to find a spot,” explained Walthers. “Using digital signage, you could let drivers know how many parking places are available on which floors, which can save them a lot of time and frustration.”
Along with retail and parking, city surveillance is another segment IoT and video surveillance makes an impact. In many cities, traffic lights are programmed to change based on pre-programmed intervals or using sensors buried beneath the road. So, if a high volume of drivers are making one specific turn during rush hour, the standard green light interval may not allow many cars to get through, resulting in traffic backups and delays.
“What we’re seeing now is the ability to use cameras to detect the number of cars in an area and trigger adjustments in the traffic lights as needed,” Walthers noted. “This results in a better flow of traffic, which can help improve the everyday lives of people living in a town or city.”
A New World of Solutions to Improve Security and Enhance Business Operations
While safety and security will continue to be the primary reasons for deploying video surveillance solutions, these intelligent devices are capable of providing value beyond their traditional security function. Thanks to advances in video and audio analytics, end users can harness IP cameras’ performance, quality and intelligence across a wide array of security and non-security applications. As a result, organizations now have access to in-depth information and insight, which they can apply to streamline operations, identify potential sales and marketing opportunities, improve customers’ experience, reduce shrinkage, deter theft and much, much more. Because of the ability to impact the bottom line, surveillance systems today are no longer simply cost centers but offer the potential to actually increase revenue – and the possible applications for video and audio analytics are seemingly only limited by the imagination.