Analytics: Going Beyond Surveillance

Typically, when people think about the use of streaming video in an industrial application, the first thing they think of is surveillance. Whilst it is not disputed that video is a very valuable tool with regard to security and life safety, the truth is that it can also play a significant role in business management – if some thought is given to its application.

Video surveillance is a significantly effective and reliable tool in the fight against crime. It can supplement a high level of protection by also fulfilling other roles, such as offering benefits with regard to life safety. When used in such a way, how often does the end user exploit its full benefits? Essentially, the system is only perceived as having value if an event occurs.

Interestingly, a significant role of video surveillance is the deterrent factor, and this should not be overlooked. It is very difficult for any user to appreciate the degree of deterrence offered by a system. Whilst this doesn’t detract from the actual value of the system, it does mean that the perceived value is weakened, as there may not be positive regular interaction between the user and the solution.

Before considering how more real value can be extracted from the technology, it is worth considering what the solution is actually doing. Outside of working hours, it can capture video footage from all areas of the site, including external areas, the perimeter, approach roads and open areas, as well as monitoring any activity inside secure areas and buildings. Video analytics and other processing – such as automatic number-plate recognition systems – can create metadata that allows events to create alarms or be flagged for later investigation.

Once all of this data is gathered together, it can be processed, managed and utilised to enhance the security of the site, premises and people. Of course, this is not the only use for what is effectively a powerful data collection and management system.

It should be remembered that during working hours, the same tasks are being performed. All of the data is still being gathered, and the processing capability is still there. However, when a site is manned it is unusual for the capabilities of the solution to be used for security-related tasks. This does not mean that the same capabilities cannot be used for different purposes!

Scheduled tasks

The ability to change the way in which a solution works based upon the overall status of the site might sound complicated, but it’s not. Changes can be based upon the time of day, the day of the week or even the time of year. Changes can be implemented by the status of the system: if an alarm element is set or unset, or if certain personnel have arrived on site as reported by an access control system. Alternatively, changes to certain parameters can be implemented manually, as and when needed.

For example, detection devices might be used at night and during weekends to detect the presence of intruders. In such a traditional approach, motion likely to be an intruder will generate an alarm condition. However, during working hours, the same detectors could be used to detect a lack of motion, signifying that an area is empty. This could allow power to be managed or devices to be shut down. If linked with access control, this could also ensure that certain devices cannot be switched on (or off) unless authorised personnel are present.

Alternatively, cameras that are used for security purposes during closed hours could be used for a wide variety of purposes during open hours. These could include queue management, people or vehicle counting, footfall tracking, process control, etc.. Analytics could allow the detection of intruders when the site is not occupied, and management tasks such as tracking shipments, reporting obstructions or even managing delivery vehicles while the site is open.

Such a degree of control was rare in the past, with many systems offering limited actions when events occurred. It might be argued that even today, many hardware-based systems might lack some of the flexibility required for a solution that can deliver a wider range of benefits. However, many software-based video management systems will certainly offer the required flexibility.

With a good video management solution, it will be possible for a site to effectively schedule certain aspects of a system’s performance. Traditionally this functionality has been used to change recording parameters with regard to recording type (continuous or event-based), frame rates and archive resolution. However, as modern solutions offer ever higher levels of flexibility, there is no reason why actions generated by events should not be scheduled.

For example, outside of working hours a camera with ANPR might be used to record footage of vehicles approaching the site, whilst also capturing number-plate details. However, during working hours it could be used to identify company vehicles to allow them access to specified areas, whilst diverting unrecognised vehicles to a general parking area. Guests of the company could be asked to provide vehicle registration details, thereby allowing them to be admitted to visitor parking, whilst also ensuring that the person they are visiting is notified of their arrival.

Indeed, the two elements could be brought together, allowing deliveries to be made out of hours, if the delivery vehicle’s registration number was notified in advance. The system could identify the vehicle, grant access through a barrier or gate, and notify a member of staff who could either deal with the delivery on-site, or monitor activity remotely.

The potential is vast, and allows a bespoke solution to be created that offers security, safety and management benefits for any given application. Where there are detectable events – either by physical detection or via video or audio – that require actions, then a well-designed solution can add significant value.

Packaged up

One example of how the additional benefits of a solution can be realised is the implementation of video technologies used by DPD in Germany. The logistics company has 75 hubs across the country, handling up to 100,000 shipments each day. Alongside logistics-specific systems such as scanning devices and automated conveyors, the company also uses video to assist with the management of parcel movements.

At the company’s depot in Heilbronn, the sorting and handover processes made use of the video system, and the specification was very much based around composite video technology, which had been used in the past. However, the potential for enhanced performance from HD video was considered as a positive step forwards, and so the specification was changed to allow the creation of a solution which utilised a network infrastructure.

The brief for the video system required security-related monitoring of the site’s buildings, loading bays and access and egress routes, thus delivering both security and safety to the depot. Additionally, the system needed to be able to provide video of a sufficient quality to allow parcel tracking to be carried out, with an emphasis on tasks such as organising the handling of packages, as well as helping to locate any that went missing or were put through incorrect processes.

The solution included a software-based VMS system, running on a single server. The attractions of such a solution were manifold, but included the ability to not only expand the system as required, but to introduce differing processing features such as ANPR, perimeter protection, etc., as needs evolved. It was additionally decided that by applying the software VMS, from SeeTec, the capability existed to retain the core element of the system whilst allowing hardware to be upgraded as and when performance criteria and cost-efficiencies allowed.

The solution ensures that all elements of parcel handling, including arrival at the site, sorting and distribution to the delivers, is recorded and documented by the HD video system. This includes tracking packages through the conveyor belt system. Any errors or exceptions can therefore be flagged, and the video used to identify the point in the process when an event occurred.

SeeTec has integrated its video management system with the logistics system in place at the site, allowing tracking information to be used to call up related video and scanning histories. Even information such as the operating speeds of the conveyor belts can be used to identify which cameras would be viewing an asset at any given time. This allows events to be pinpointed to a specific video clip, assisting in the swift and effective resolution of problems.

The outcome is that incorrectly sorted parcels are quickly located, and site security is also enhanced by the higher quality system. Add to this the flexibility and potential for further expansion, and the example certainly highlights the scope of everyday benefits afforded to the user by the SeeTec VMS.

In summary

Far from considering video management as a security tool, the positives for any business are clear if video data is also used for management tasks, and even integrated with other systems to provide a visible context for investigations.

Video data can add value to a wide range of tasks, and by providing security too it makes such solutions extremely cost effective!

Think of Exceptions!Video content analysis represents a valuable tool in a wide range of applications. In situations where exceptions can be clearly defined, the technology is far more potent. This is because the exceptions that the technology is looking for are simplified, and extremely specific rules can be written.

By way of an example, consider the differences between monitoring for exceptions on a road and a conveyor belt.

If you are looking for problems on a road, there are a diverse number of factors to be considered. If a vehicle is stopped for a predetermined time window, that could be a risk which needs further investigation. However, if the system flags up an event every time congestion causes traffic to stop, or when a large vehicle appears in the scene, or when someone attempts to turn a vehicle around, the operator will soon start to ignore any alerts. Also, if the road is being monitored, what happens if a vehicle pulls off the roadway? As the application is predominantly security-related, it must be accepted that attempts will be made to make suspicious activity appear to be innocent. It must also be expected that events which are unexpected may occur, and these may be of great importance.

Monitoring items on a conveyor belt is simpler, because the potential exceptions are more basic. If the belt stops running, or if an object is hanging off the side of the belt, or if an object appears or disappears on the belt, then an alert can be generated. These are all simple to define, and the analytics software will not need a complex set-up procedure to achieve this.

By eliminating the chance of random or unexpected exceptions, the resulting simplicity makes video analytics more efficient, more reliable, and certainly more cost-effective as a result.

Video analytics technology can easily be utilised for a wide range of tasks beyond security. It can be used for site management tasks such as monitoring processes or production lines, for marketing and footfall analysis, for entrance control, people counting, vehicle management, etc.. Indeed, wherever a visual element – an action, event or identifier – is present, analytics can provide a solution. It matters not if the system is monitoring status LEDs or gauges on machinery, directing vehicles to empty loading bays, or even monitoring parcels on a conveyor belt, the technology will deliver benefits. Out of working hours, video analytics can be scheduled to also provide a high degree of security as well.

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