Jul 1, 2001 12:00 PM

We are now being introduced to digital security cameras with 1.23 mega-pixel densities. This relates to 1280 〜 960 images, or huge detail.

Ten or 15 years ago, we were just starting to break into some new fields, but overall, CCTV security was CCTV security. Today? Hold onto your seats! The applications are emerging at an astounding rate. What's bringing it all on at such a clip? Simple: The digital revolution and the competition to be the first and the only. But with no fixed standards or compression specifications in our industry, we may be driving toward a cliff at 100 mph.

If you were a locksmith 10 years ago, I would have advised you to start moving into the security market. At that time, the security folks had started to make a dent in the locksmithing industry with their access control systems. If you were a CCTV security dealer five years ago, I would have recommended that you start to learn computer language and protocol. Additionally I would have advised hiring someone that understood the computer industry. Why? Because the computer geeks are invading the security industry in the same way that the security industry invaded the locksmithing industry with a single minor difference ! it is not taking 10 years.

OK, so let's take a look at some of the "newer" applications popping up. Let's start with home security, a market that is rapidly coming of age. With cameras becoming smaller, and the cost going down, previously impossible applications are becoming reality. Of course, we have applications at the front door, back door and nursery. The methods are changing. High definition (high resolution) television is just around the corner. It is fully digitalized on input and output. Consequently, very soon we will see the demise of the computer monitor, telephone, intercom, and, oh yeah, the CCTV watch monitor in the house. Everything within our homes that has been restricted to a fixed medium will now be opened up to single, digital simplicity. Need to make a telephone call? Look at the television wall and ask to call. Want to check on the kids? Look at the television wall and mention a name.

For a number of years I have been saying that we were within 10 years of the average home having anywhere from three to five cameras. All of a sudden that 10 years is almost up. I still think that we are within 10 years, but it is no longer on a sliding scale. Home automation designers are already working feverishly on the perfect home that will say hello to you and open the front door automatically ´ or call 911 if you fall and can't get up. It seems only natural that while they are designing the automated, digitalized, computer interfaced camera system to watch you, they would also design an automated, digitalized, computer-interfaced camera system to protect you and your property. Are you ready and will you be able to understand what they are talking about?

So, moving from the home of the future to your existing business, what else do we see? With the introduction of computer interfacing, suddenly the spectrum of real-time, live or stored, visual imaging can go berserk. There is new stuff such as digital panning ! the ability to move from one point of view to another without moving the camera. Take a very wide, high-density (big resolution) digital image and pick a point to look at. The computer will automatically move you in on the scene and give you the impression that the camera moved and the lens zoomed in. Choose several points in sequence and you have a guard tour or panning sequence. Add several cameras together in sequenced or varied order and you have a semi-intelligent, programmable, partially-automated camera system. If you were to view this system without any previous knowledge, you would swear that cameras were moving and lenses were zooming and guards were working joy sticks feverishly. The reality, however, is that nothing moved and everything was done via digitalized, computer-interfacing.

Digital zooming is the ability to enlarge the existing live or stored video image or any part of that visual image without the use of physical lenses and/or physical magnifying techniques. It is not new, but rather more affordable and available. The major problem with digital zooming is that the image usually becomes digitized before it is large enough for us to recognize. Digitized means that we are taking a bunch of small, tightly packed squares of color, and we are making them bigger. The problem is that the bigger we make these squares, the more they look like a colored square and the less they look like an image. This has been a major problem with the PC-driven systems for the past few years. There is a simple solution to the problem, but the cost has held us back ! until the very recent past.

The solution is to increase the resolution (density) of the image. I keep referring to resolution and density in the same breath because they are the same thing, but in two different worlds. Resolution is an analog reference to the number of lines that are used to create an image. Density is a digital reference to the overall size of an image as determined by a total number of pixel points (squares of color). The higher the resolution and/or density, the better the detail. The higher the density, the bigger the image can be enlarged digitally without becoming digitized. We are now being introduced to digital security cameras with 1.23 mega-pixel densities. This relates to 1280 〜 960 images, or huge detail. Just another thing that is opening up the Pandora's box of applications for our smaller, newer, better, digital cameras.

What about digital video motion detection and recognition systems? They can recognize not only motion within an image but the direction of the motion; the size of the object creating the motion; they can tell the difference between a crawling man and a walking dog; between the normal strides of two individual men or women. The implications here should be overwhelming the visual portion of your brain. Think about it! Give me a building completely surrounded inside and out with subminiature cameras ! less than 1-inch by 1-inch by 1-inch ! and a high-level, digital video motion detection system and I will: 1) replace your existing alarm system with a semi-intelligent, fully automated camera system; 2) not only detect intrusion, but analyze it prior to setting alarm response into motion; 3) cut your normal false alarms in half or more; 4) provide you with a visual response to any/all alarms prior to and during response.

Since we have spoken about motion detection, what about video non-motion detection systems? Take the example of a large reception area. The one thing you fear most is that someone will leave a package or briefcase behind that contains explosives or worse. If you post a guard to watch the area, he might miss something through distraction or boredom. However, let's try this: Place a camera in the same area. Take a digitalized photograph of the area and do a continuous referral back to that image compared to the live scene, 30 times per second, via a video non-motion detection system and you now have a vigilant, programmable, visual inspection guard on your front lobby. Tell the guard that packages left for more than five minutes must be highlighted on a screen and presented to the response group and boom! You're in business, 24 hours a day.

One of the newer items to come into the market gossip pool is a device that interfaces with cameras and actually identifies the motives of individuals based upon their actions (or lack of actions) while in certain commercial atmospheres. If you own a jewelry store, you may fear being robbed. You pay careful attention to people coming through the door, but hey, stuff happens and you can't watch everyone all of the time. Not only that, how do you know who to watch? What if your camera system could highlight and/or identify those individuals that entered your store that had a 95 percent chance of being a miscreant? Wouldn't that be a hoot? The fact is, the identification of potential thieves or terrorists through live, digital, analysis of movements under controlled or projected circumstances, is coming soon.

This of course brings us to facial or bone structure recognition systems ! the ability to identify individuals based upon the overall structure of their face and/or the structure of the bones under the facial skin. A small camera sits atop my computer monitor and allows the computer to "see" me and/or anyone else that enters the room. If it is me, the computer says, "Hi Charlie, ready to go to work?" I then respond yes or no. If it is a stranger or someone that my computer does not recognize, it says nothing and access is denied. How about this for an application: You are pulled over by the local or state police for a standard traffic infraction. The officer can instantaneously identify you via a portable camera clipboard tied into a statewide or nationwide image database. Suddenly the need for a passport, driver's license, or any other identification becomes moot.

Last on our list of various technical and physical CCTV applications are the intelligent cameras ! intellectual little jobbies that not only produce an image, but analyze it, scrutinize it, recognize it, and show you what you programmed it to see, versus everything in between. Although we have been able to interface computers to our security systems for several years now, wouldn't it be a hoot if the computer were built into the camera? Well, take a look because the computer camera is here. Power it up, drop it into your PC or stand alone monitor, give it a phone line and boom! You're in business. We are talking about cameras that can automatically choose the density at which they transmit according to image parameters set in advance. Cameras that can transmit, via LAN or WAN network systems, images that are 1280 〜 960 at 1.6 meg per second. These are the smart cameras that require no transmitter or controller.

What if the smart camera could determine if something should be remembered and if so, automatically stored or transmitted the required information? What if it could send you an email message to your phone that it had an image that you should look at? What if it could send the image to your phone? Wouldn't it be cool?

OK, so what's the point of all of this sci-fi-sounding stuff? The point is that all of it really is just around the corner, if you can afford it. So what are you doing to prepare yourself mentally if not physically for this fast-paced, ever-changing market? Are you ready to embrace the new technology or do you plan to be bragging about the ability of your kids to get it, while you sit back and watch?

Charlie R. Pierce, president of LRC Electronics, Davenport, Iowa, is a leading authority on CCTV and a regular contributor to Access Control & Security Systems Integration.

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