HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU
The type of futuristic video surveillance technology once seen only in movies is now entering the mainstream thanks to a combination of broadband wireless networks, cost-effective video cameras capable of transmitting over IP, and biometrics. The result is the advent of a new generation of real-time surveillance capabilities that are changing the way governments and organizations protect their citizens and assets.
The eyes in the sky don’t lie, so it’s no wonder that video surveillance is appearing in more places every day, capturing identities of customers at banks and panning city blocks and urban districts. Add wireless to the mix, and the areas that can be cost-effectively surveyed are quickly growing.
“Hardware costs are steadily falling as Moore’s Law dictates, and we’re seeing more bandwidth strung around,” said Derek Kerton, a consultant with The Kerton Group. “But wireless gets interesting because broadband networks make it possible to drop in a camera and stream content back for all sorts of purposes.”
Video surveillance historically has operated over a closed-circuit analog system that is separately designed, procured, deployed and supported in an organization. The majority of these deployments have been based on a proprietary, single-vendor solution with no interoperability between other systems. In addition, closed-caption TV (CCTV) records images on a video cassette, meaning no one on the other end can see what is happening in real time.
As security risks have changed — most notably because of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 — the demand for improved and more scalable systems has grown — specifically, systems that deliver secure, real-time images of an event as well as the flexibility to show full-motion and still images.
As a result, video surveillance products have moved to standards-based IP architectures to provide an easy way to capture and distribute surveillance over any IP network. This enables businesses and governments to build best-of-breed systems that are cost-effective.
The market for wireless video surveillance already is emerging in municipal and public-safety wireless network deployments. With the advent of municipal wireless networks in nearly every major city in the U.S. and mesh technology deployments in the 4.9 GHz band reserved for public safety, wireless video cameras are making a swift entrance as the cost to add another application becomes negligible.
“Quite a bit of the wireless mesh network deployments we are doing are justified by video or video is a big component of the solution, more so than general access,” said Peter Stanforth, director of technology for Motorola’s mesh networks products group. Motorola and Sony have developed a PCMCIA card that lets certain cameras act as a repeater/router in a mesh without any other hardware.
In contrast, video feeds over existing 3G commercial wireless networks based on technologies such as CDMA 1xEV-DO and W-CDMA are cost prohibitive and technically troublesome. These networks may be able to deliver content at speeds of 400 kb/s to 500 kb/s, but data can only travel back to the network at uplink speeds of 50 kb/s to 70 kb/s. Video feeds require just the opposite. Wi-Fi mesh networks, however, can support 300 kb/s to 600 kb/s on the uplink, which is adequate to deliver quality video.
A host of business cases are emerging. Ad hoc network software company PacketHop last month made its first customer announcement: the Lakewood, N.J., Police Department, which deployed the solution during a music festival last September and has plans for a more complete rollout this year.
“Video is the number one application our customers and prospects are looking at,” said Kevin Payne, PacketHop’s director of corporate marketing. “The beauty is no wires. It can be deployed anywhere you need it immediately.
PacketHop not only is targeting the public-safety community with its peer-to-peer ad hoc technology but also municipalities as cities look for wireless video and asset-tracking applications. The company recently released its Communication System 2.0, which supports interference-free, mobile-mesh broadband communications as well as cellular data network access to extend the range of the network.
During Wingstock ’06 at FirstEnergy Park, Lakewood police loaded PacketHop’s mesh-networking software on computers at its command post and on ruggedized computers in eight cruisers, each of which also featured an analog video recording system.
Operating on 4.9 GHz spectrum dedicated for public-safety use, the PacketHop solution created a broadband mobile mesh network that connected all of the computers, which shared real-time multicast video, GPS resource tracking, multimedia instant messaging and whiteboarding applications.
By monitoring video surveillance from the unmanned police cruisers off site and employing K-9 units, the Lakewood police department was able to provide security for the event using just 10 officers.
“It gave us many more eyes than we had officers we were able to deploy — it really serves as a force multiplier,” said Fred Capper, Lakewood’s deputy chief of police. “People at the event told us that they thought there were a lot more police officers out there than there were.”
Payne said Lakewood spent from $3000 to $5000 per police cruiser to enable the vehicles to provide “virtual eyes” that could be shared with each other and with the command post.
“The communications system also improves officer utilization, resulting in significant cost savings,” said Lakewood Police Chief Robert C. Lawson. “Using PacketHop during events for video surveillance in unmanned police cruisers saves the police department $3000 per event in overtime costs.”
Municipalities also are seeing that video surveillance can benefit their constituents in other ways, from monitoring traffic flow at an intersection to putting video cameras on city buses. For example, the bus system in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has had video surveillance via a Motorola mesh network since 2005.
In many cases, the video surveillance is not real-time but significantly closer to that ideal than CCTV. Long Beach Transit (LBT) in California installed a digital recording system from General Electric on its buses also in 2005. The system, called MobileView, is an on-board wireless video surveillance system that enables LBT to secure buses, provide accurate feedback when an incident occurs and reduce false claims. Each time there is an incident on the bus, the driver calls in with his dispatch radio, which triggers the system to automatically tag the video starting 3 minutes ahead of when the event was initiated. When the bus returns to the depot, the video is automatically transferred through a Cisco Systems router. The video capability has cut down on false claims from other drivers claiming that a bus driver was at fault in an accident.
Mobile Digital Systems offers a video surveillance system for patrol cars. The system, complete with a Wi-Fi access point on the roof, records up to 80 hours of video and then uploads the data to a server at headquarters once the patrol car is driven into the parking lot at the end of a shift.
With a greater interest in securing America, government is leading the way in pushing the envelope for wireless video technology and its inherent cost-saving and safety advantages. “Next in line are the quasi government entities and then will come facilities and corporate environments,” Steve Vinsik, director of access control systems with Unisys, a system integrator, said.
Though the trend has been for governments to control municipal wireless data networks, many also are actively involved in discussions with private entities, such as utilities and banks, to create public/private partnerships that would let law enforcement access video surveillance — in real-time — of critical utility infrastructure or when a bank robbery is in progress.
But such partnerships bring unique challenges. Mark Adams, chief architect with Northrop Grumman, which is building a wireless public-safety broadband network in New York City, said his company is working with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on a project in Louisiana to protect oil reserves. One of the aspects being discussed is how to share information from existing sensors in the city — such as those deployed by utilities — to offer connectivity in certain instances.
“It’s more about policy than connectivity,” Adams said. “We can create that connectivity through the Internet but the question is when and how to decide when that is necessary.”
While mesh networks have effectively supported wireless video surveillance in many cases, the real breakthrough for the capability will come when so-called wide-area 4G networks, such as WiMAX, enter the scene to extend coverage and offer more bandwidth. Mesh networks aren’t well suited for widespread deployments of video feeds because cell radius is on the order of a few hundred feet, with typically 30 to 40 base stations per square mile.
According to Motorola’s Stanforth, the biggest challenge to deploying video over a mesh network is the ever increasing demand for even higher-quality images. “Higher fidelity is demanded for the images, and that translates into more bandwidth. When you start to add more cameras, the total amount of bandwidth needed goes up, and you need to engineer the network to support that high bandwidth. That becomes a major challenge because there is a constant load,” he said.
Backhaul also is an issue. “Mesh technology offers an extra challenge to find backhaul to locations like a light pole because a provider doesn’t usually bring connectivity right out to the light pole,” Adams said. “High-capacity backhaul is necessary to do video.”
Fortunately, 802.11n Wi-Fi technology offers a stopgap since it incorporates multiple input/multiple output technology to extend coverage and throughput. But Wi-Fi never was designed to be a wide area mobile network. Therefore, a continual addition of mesh nodes would be required to cover a large urban area, creating yet another network-management challenge.
Nevertheless, many technologists are hoping to see WiMAX come on the scene soon. Sprint Nextel is in the process of rolling out the technology to at least 100 million potential customers by 2008. Other smaller operators are deploying the technology as well, while computer chip giant Intel and major wireless vendors are pumping large amounts of money into the platform to bring economies of scale down quickly.
On average, WiMAX will deliver data throughput of 10 Mb/s in urban environments and significantly more bandwidth and range in rural areas. Typically each cell has 100 Mb/s backhaul capacity.
“I believe that WiMAX is the technology that will revolutionize because of the distance and the bandwidth,” said Angela Corrieri, president of Mobile Digital Systems.
Vinsik said Unisys is working with pre-WiMAX technology coupled with Wi-Fi or microwave as a backhaul solution. His firm is a sub-contractor to Boeing, which is the lead contractor for the DHS Secure Border initiative, a comprehensive multi-year plan to secure America’s borders and reduce illegal immigration.
“DHS is looking for long-range, high-bandwidth-intensive cameras … so we are going to be bringing that video back across using technologies such as WiMAX and microwave, the only wireless technologies that can handle that,” Vinsik said.
WiMAX isn’t the only mobile broadband contender. Northrup Grumman’s aforementioned New York City initiative involves the deployment of TD-CDMA, which is being championed by IPWireless. Using spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band leased from Sprint Nextel and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn — New York officials chose the technology over a mesh system because they had some stringent requirements for high-speed mobility, security and reliability. Northrop Grumman’s conclusion is that TD-CDMA is best-suited for large city public-safety applications.
“Support for mobility is important, and just looking at the number of cameras, you need a technology that can handle a large load,” Adams said.
TD-CDMA is a standardized next-generation network technology that originally was anticipated to be rolled out in 2008, essentially to handle overflow capacity when W-CDMA frequency division duplex (FDD) channels had reached their limits. But California-based IPWireless accelerated the development and commercialization of the technology years sooner, creating a non-line-of-sight, high-capacity system designed as a replacement for DSL systems.
Initially, TD-CDMA was deployed by small ISPs in various parts of the world, but is now used by commercial carriers such as European wireless operator Orange. The technology also is likely to be an important part of the next phase of the commercial 3G UMTS standard, known as long term evolution (LTE), and IPWireless has introduced a mobile TV architecture based on TD-CDMA that is being adopted in Japan.
Regardless of how much capacity these new wireless data systems can handle, capacity will take a major hit from real-time wireless surveillance feeds. The burning question is: How much bandwidth is enough?
“The reality is that you’ll never have a system in the short-term, at least, that has enough capacity for streaming live video all of the time,” Adams said.
Therefore, other enabling technologies must come into play, especially as the quality of video continues to improve. Vendors already are talking about transmitting high-definition video.
Compression technology then is becoming a more critical factor as the demand for cleaner and crisper images increases — especially for evidence used in court. Compression is a technique that reduces the amount of data needed to transmit video so that it can be sent more efficiently over communications media, such as the Internet and wireless systems that use radio waves.
A plethora of companies are driving innovation in this area, hoping to capitalize on the multi-billion dollar digital video market that is expected to revolutionize the mobile, IPTV, HDTV and video-on-demand markets. Everyone in the TV space wants better compression technology to drive more signals through finite bandwidth.
For instance, the bandwidth needed for video applications may decrease markedly if Euclid Discoveries’ compression scheme, dubbed EuclidVision, proves to be as good as advertised. The solution’s object-based compression technique lets EuclidVision compress full-motion video at ratios 460% higher than MPEG-4 without degrading the quality of the original video, according to company officials.
Defining areas of greater priority in terms of surveillance can also enhance video quality where it is needed and save on bandwidth. In low priority areas, smart systems can increase the level of video compression, thus reducing the bandwidth and processing load dedicated to those regions. In turn, more resources can be devoted to areas of high interest such as outer doors, windows, high-security areas or areas where motion previously has been detected. By focusing on areas of greater concern, the system can reduce the number of false alarms while increasing the likelihood of detecting a true security breach.
SightLogix takes this intelligent video idea a step further. A system’s ability to detect moving objects diminishes when used outdoors because it’s impossible to program computers to come anywhere near the natural ability of the human eye to detect and interpret possible threats in a scene. Consequently, the company developed a system capable of leveraging today’s smaller and more powerful processors by building the intelligence into the camera itself. The result is a camera that is mobile, powered by solar panels and capable of transmitting information and associated videos wirelessly — so it can be rapidly deployed to new locations and easy to re-configure its security protocols at an existing site.
“Our cameras are configurable and sense violations. You could program it to not transmit over 100 Mb/s or you can turn it off or transmit in low bandwidth until an event happens,” said John Romanowich, president of SightLogix. “Organizations can’t afford to make a wireless network if it has to run at full power all the time.”
The vendor offers a mobile deployment kit that comes with a solar-powered mobile trailer, backup batteries and wireless communications integrated with a SightLogix intelligence camera.
With all of these wireless video streams coming in, it would seem that more technicians would be needed to monitor them. But intelligent video and biometric technologies are lessening — to a degree — the human interaction requirement.
“Human interaction has to take place,” Unisys’ Vinsik said. “Any intelligent video is not going to be 100 percent correct, but what we can do is limit what level humans need to be involved.”
Despite what is portrayed in the movies, a computer database can’t accurately identify someone’s face captured by a camera. Face recognition technology took a beating after Sept. 11, 2001, when several video surveillance technology companies said they could find Osama Bin Laden. “You can’t conclusively ID an unwilling participant with face recognition,” Vinsik said.
What is feasible is the ability to compare database images against an image captured by video. The relevancy of any single match given current technology tops out at about 60%, but that’s enough to put up a red flag that indicates someone needs to take a closer look. For instance, an image captured of a person taking pictures at border checkpoint might be a tourist, but if a camera captures the same person three weeks later, video analytics and biometrics can detect that, alerting the border patrol to be on the lookout, Vinsik said.
The eyes are always watching.