Digital video technology joins the physical security arsenal
Digital video surveillance finally seems set to become a centerpiece of physical security systems, a prospect that was unlikely even a year ago. Questions over issues such as image quality and the bandwidth needed to carry the video over data networks dogged the technology.
Some people argue that those issues still haven't been fully addressed. Despite that, digital video is riding a swell of interest as its cost continues to come down, bandwidth and storage space get more affordable, and demand continues for technologies that can bolster emergency response and facility defenses.
Digital video's appeal is obvious. Older analog video systems require constant monitoring by on-site staff and frequent switching out of finicky tapes to record the video. Digital video can be sent over standard networks so that many surveillance sites can be managed from one location, and the video files can be stored on computer hard disks for near-instantaneous retrieval.
Market research firm Datamonitor sees digital video surveillance as a worldwide market worth $7.4 billion by 2007, a 55 percent yearly growth from $1.3 billion in 2003. The firm's analysts expect the public sector to account for as much as 22 percent of that future market.
"I think we are right at the beginning of the take-up of this," said Bruce Dewitte, product manager for Northrop Grumman's Infrastructure Protection Division. "It will start this year and really blossom in 2006."
Eye on the future
Leading the charge are companies like iMove, which manufactures what it calls wide-area surveillance solutions. Typical surveillance cameras can only pan, tilt and zoom over a relatively narrow field, and many such cameras are needed to cover a broad area.
By comparison, far fewer of iMove's FlexG spherical sensors, each of which uses an array of imaging systems, are needed to continuously cover the same area.
For example, to keep an eye on an area three-quarters of a mile long by half a mile wide, company officials say an iMove solution using just nine of the company's FlexG sensors will do the job. It would take 242 closed-circuit TV cameras to do the same.
The company recently completed a major pilot project for a Navy facility that wants to replace its current video surveillance system, which can't cover enough of the facility's perimeter for staff to see who or what triggers most of the alarms.
With the lessons learned from the Navy project, iMove officials hope they can release a production version of the new solution within the next year or so.
"The target [markets] are such things as nuclear national assets, port security, airports and similar facilities — anything involved with external coverage," said Rick Mandrell, iMove's chief operating officer.
Video surveillance cameras produced by IPIX, which similarly provide complete, continuous coverage of an area, were used at President Bush's inauguration in Washington, D.C., in January. They were also used to guard the G8 Summit held last June in Sea Island, Ga.
Eventually, digital video surveillance cameras will attach directly to a standard IP network, making deployment much simpler. These so-called IP cameras, which most of the major camera manufacturers have started to make, include all of the intelligence needed to act as a self-contained node on the network as well as the software needed to compress and encode the digital video. Some even include Web server software and operating systems, which eliminates the need for separate servers to process the images.
Until these newer technologies make a bigger impact, current users of video security technologies will have to find a way to get the most out of their existing investments.
"Many of the surveillance cameras that are in place are still analog. They cost a lot, and customers are looking to use that existing investment," said Lisa Ciappetta, product marketing manager specializing in video surveillance for ADT Security Services. "And the fact is that analog cameras still produce images with the better detail. Digital cameras are getting there, but they are not there yet."
The need to incorporate existing analog cameras in current digital video installments means the focus is still on the network's video recorder, which takes the analog video feed from the camera and digitizes, compresses and encodes it before sending it out onto the IP network. Also important is finding the analysis software that makes the best use of the digital video.
A test of a digital video system at the Jacksonville, Fla., International Airport — funded as part of a $28 million Transportation Security Administration program to develop airport security systems