Announcing the Product of the Year
Dec 1, 2003 12:00 PM
By Corrina Stellitano
Front parking lot, back entrance, interior corridor, front entrance, front parking lot. Again and again the cycle continues unbroken, even if a thief is smashing windows in the corner of the front lot, even if the janitor is prying open the IT department door with a screwdriver. The closed circuit camera continues its tour of duty without pause.
Wouldn't it be nice to have a security camera as smart as a protection officer, dedicated to tracking unauthorized motion inside the facility? The 2003 Product of the Year is an intelligent camera function by Bosch Security Systems called AutoTrack which turns the Lancaster, Pa.-based company's AutoDome and EnviroDome cameras into devices with a brain. The second annual Product of the Year award is presented by Access Control & Security Systems magazine.
Launched in March 2003, AutoTrack is a motion-tracking capability built into Bosch's line of interior AutoDome and exterior EnviroDome pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) surveillance cameras. Powered by a Philips TriMedia processor ¡ª which also fuels Bosch's high-end digital video recorders ¡ª the AutoTrack utility watches for a moving object of a predetermined size (a predetermined amount of pixels at a set zoom range), and follows that object until motion ceases or the object exits the PTZ camera's 360-degree coverage area.
The First Step Toward the Future
Surveillance and access control systems have advanced significantly in recent years; closed circuit cameras and recorders can capture more information with greater detail. Until now, most of that information was collected by camera devices with no discretion, and transmitted across networks to the brains of the operation ¡ª a computer.
AutoTrack uses the principles of a distributed intelligence system, in which the components of the system become smarter. It is a capability that makes AutoTrack a forerunner in the transformation of the surveillance industry, product designers say.
"The whole concept is to try to move the intelligent part of the system closer to the camera head," says Michael Bolotine, senior product manager, Bosch Security Systems. "You want your cameras located all over the facility to become smarter and smarter, so you don't have to add intelligence by installing more powerful operating computers."
This becomes more important as systems begin working on networks. You want to transmit less data, and more important data," he continues. "This is basically step one in what we think is going to be the future of surveillance systems. Whether I have 1,000 cameras or 10,000 cameras, the intelligence grows as the system grows."
Dome cameras equipped with AutoTrack still record at preset positions on a tour. However, when the camera glimpses motion, it leaves its preprogrammed tour and begins following the motion.
To accomplish this, video from the AutoDome or EnviroDome is converted to digital data to be processed by algorithms contained in the Philips Trimedia processor, explains Louis Rubinfield, manager of video systems engineering for Bosch. The algorithms interpret 10 frames-per-second (fps). Corner matching compares the corners of objects in subsequent frames; the largest number of pixels moving in a group becomes the target.
For the system operator, the process is much less complicated. Users simply view camera outputs on monitors and use on-screen menus and a keyboard to set a few parameters. They select the height of the camera off the floor and then enable the AutoTrack function. "Two quick menu steps and you're done," Rubinfield says. "We could have given the user lots of options as far as velocity and motion criteria, and we decided it was best to minimize the amount of setup the user had to do. We spent a lot of time on that and got a lot of feedback from customers."
The Challenges of Innovation
User feedback was gathered during two years of product study and development. Before Bosch acquired CSI-Philips in 2002, the idea for AutoTrack had originated at the Philips Labs research facility in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. Philips engineers had long considered the viability of a motion tracking capability, but systems controlled by a computer in a central location were unwieldy and cost-prohibitive. To fit the AutoTrack concept into the AutoDome package was challenging at best, Bolotine and Rubinfield agree.
"The idea was to get all the information contained in the software in a chip that would fit within the camera head," Bolotine says. "Cocept-wise, it seemed very simple, but technically this was very difficult."
Because AutoTrack follows motion while the camera is moving, the difficulty level of creating the product also increased, Bolotine says. Some motion tracking systems follow motion with a technique called discreet tracking, in which the camera grabs a frame, turns to follow the motion and grabs another frame, creating a jerky motion path. AutoTrack enables the camera to track continuously. As the object moves away from the camera, it zooms the camera in to follow the motion more accurately within the larger field-of-view.
Transforming a PC-based system into a tiny processor chip was also challenging. "The hardware platforms were completely different," Rubinfield says. "There's really no operating system on the Trimedia chip so you have to worry about all of the I/O happening on the processor." Fitting the system into such a small space meant a tradeoff between size and power consumption, and the camera's plastic housing put more importance on the amount of frequency emissions.
Other difficulties were function-based. A person running at more than 10 mph could possibly evade the camera. And, because AutoTrack follows moving pixels, in early trials in an empty room, it tended to become fixated on the second hand of a clock. Even the finished product is not intended for crowded areas filled with multiple moving objects, Bolotine says.
"Ideally, it's going to be used in an application where there is little or no motion expected. A warehouse after hours, not a crowded street," he explains. "We do have ones used in parking lots, but the danger is if there is something nearby with motion, it will lock on to it and record." When two people enter the field of vision, the camera will follow the person closest to the camera.
Already, Bosch is planning future product evolutions. A virtual mask could soon help block out certain types of repetitive motion such as blowing leaves on trees. Currently AutoTrack devotees are using the privacy mask to accomplish this, but the mask (often used to block windows of apartment complexes from the roving eye of a parking lot security camera) completely blacks out the blocked area.
But this hitch isn't enough to stop users like Harvey Riddle from using AutoTrack and offering it to his customers. Riddle, a systems designer for PSA Electronic Systems, a security systems integration company in Raleigh, N.C., uses AutoTrack to monitor parking lots in public housing areas, among other uses. "The camera is normally touring from one preset to another. If a car pulls in, it follows the car; then it watches the driver exit the vehicle and enter his apartment. It waits about five seconds and then it goes back into its tour mode," he says. "It's the most substantial innovation in CCTV I've seen in a long time."
Riddle remembers another system that used multiple fixed cameras to generate images which were analyzed for motion by a computer. If motion was detected, commands were sent to a PTZ camera to follow the motion. The price tag? More than $100,000.
"It was nice, but you sell a whole lot more $5,000 cameras than $100,000 cameras," Riddle says.
Improvements to the AutoTrack function could also provide the tracking of objects other than people, such as cars. The handoff of recording from camera to camera coordinated by a specialized PC could allow the tracking of a person's motion throughout a facility.
"This is, in part, an experiment for us. We're getting feedback from the market, and we try to (update) as we go along," Rubinfield says.
Another option in development could allow a user to click on a target on a monitor showing a crowded room, create a digital signature, and then send that signature to all of the facility's cameras. "So then you could track 'the guy in a blue shirt' in a crowded room," Bolotine says. "That's a few years away, but it's possible."
AutoTrack adds about 20 percent to the cost of a typical AutoDome or EnviroDome camera, and is also offered as an upgrade. While it won't allow users to fire their contracted security guards, it could optimize man-hours, Bolotine says.
"I don't believe it will replace your midnight guard, but it does free up your guard who may be watching a bank of 50 cameras. When an incident occurs, these guys have a million things they must do (in addition to directing the cameras to follow the motion occurring on-screen)," he says. "Innovation today becomes commodity tomorrow, and I believe this is one of those products. It just makes sense for the camera to have this capability."