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Emerging Technologies: Computers Watching Over Us


December 20, 2006 By

With cameras installed at every turn monitoring a person's activity, Big Brother was a frightening concept in George Orwell's classic novel, 1984, where citizens of a fictitious totalitarian government were watched and punished for slight indiscretions. What many people today may not realize is that Orwell's vision has become more real than they thought and they are indeed being monitored throughout the day as they work, shop, bank and drive. But that rather than a tool to utterly control their lives, these cameras are helping to keep them safer.

Some estimates put around 30 million video surveillance cameras in the United States, shooting four billion hours of footage each week. The video surveillance industry has grown into a $160 billion global industry, especially after homeland security efforts after 9/11, where the federal government has poured money into video surveillance.

Numerous cities have set up cameras in various locations many increasingly connected with wireless technologies, with traffic lights only the beginning. New York City, with the help from a Department of Homeland Security grant, has created a network of thousands of cameras throughout the city, including subway stations, traffic signals and private businesses. The New York City Police Department operates its own network of 3,000 cameras. Chicago has also received grant funds from the DHS and built a "Homeland Security Grid" of 2,250 cameras, with plans to add even more cameras in the coming years. Baltimore and New Orleans also have thousands of cameras throughout the cities.

Municipalities that deploy Wi-Fi networks can often utilize the infrastructure to greatly reduce the cost of deploying video cameras across a city. And emerging mobile video capabilities are going to play an increasing role for police and emergency responders. So there is little doubt that the number of video cameras is going to increase dramatically in over the next decade.

Staffing the feeds from thousands of cameras would be a budgetary and logistical nightmare, yet with video analytics software that tracks potential problems and monitors areas for preset situations, the problem may be solved.

Video Analytics is a software system at the forefront of security technology that is helping to minimize the need for human viewers to distinguish important events from video feeds. Video analytics software tracks live video monitor feeds and pinpoints video images that fit specified criteria. When the software identifies predetermined criteria, such as a person loitering, or a bag left at the airport, or a car in a restricted area, it will then set off appropriate alarms to security personnel.

"Traditional video services are very reactive and you have to make sure to pay attention to cameras and try to make sense of what's going on, where with video analytics, the software uses mathematical algorithms that actually shift through all the videos and triggers alerts if something goes wrong," said Dilip Sarangan, research analyst for Frost and Sullivan.

Video analytics software groups video pixels into objects onto a computer database, which are then compared with present behavioral and motion parameters. If a preset object or motion parameter is detected an alarm will be triggered.

Security systems have benefited the most from the emerging technology, since the technology helps identify problems and notify appropriate security personal. The largest user of video analytics currently is federal and state governments, taking up more than half of the market share, according to Video Analytics: The Ground Reality, a report on video analytics by Frost and Sullivan. The Department of Homeland Security utilizes the technology and has offered grants to state and local authorities to purchase and deploy video surveillance systems for homeland security applications. Under Homeland Security, video analytic software has been mainly used for monitoring security at airports, shipping ports and borders.

One of the biggest users of video analytics are border protection officers, who use the software to detect things


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