Private eyes, public gains

Growing market for intelligent video surveillance has integrators seeing green

Sitting at a sidewalk cafe in London recently, Alan Lipton, chief technology officer of ObjectVideo Inc. in Reston, Va., noticed an outdoor video camera pointed in his direction. But Lipton felt no anxiety about prying eyes.

"No one is watching," he said. "No one watches these screens for thousands of hours."

Lipton ought to know. But he's trying to change things.

While video surveillance is proliferating worldwide, ObjectVideo and other companies are developing new technologies to make video surveillance cameras much more discerning. The new "intelligent video" systems can be programmed to sound an alarm when a person or vehicle enters a restricted zone, or when a person leaves a briefcase or other object unattended in a public area.

Surveillance video is used primarily in "after-the-fact" investigations. But as cameras become more capable on their own ? and increasingly are networked with large IT systems ? video surveillance is likely to become more effective as a security tool, and possibly may be used to interrupt acts of crime or terrorism.

Intelligent video is just one of the innovations drawing more IT integrators into the rapidly growing video surveillance industry. Northrop Grumman Corp. and EDS Corp. are among the major players now competing in this expanding niche.

"There's been a convergence of IT and video," Lipton said.

A significant development is the aggressive entry of integrators that are networking the new, advanced digital cameras and intelligent video software with existing systems, including analog cameras, and with other security systems and IT networks for access control, intrusion detection and cybersecurity, said Joe Freeman, president of J.P. Freeman Co. Inc., Newtown, Conn., and a leading expert in video surveillance.

Formerly dominated by burglar alarm companies and camera experts, the video surveillance field is being influenced strongly by a growing number of IT integrators offering a more holistic and sophisticated approach, Freeman said.

For example, in a recent meeting with the sales force of Axis Communications, a high-end video camera maker in Sweden, Freeman said he was surprised to find that the sales staff was experienced in IT systems rather than in traditional alarms and cameras.

"They were all IT people, and that's remarkable," he said. "The security industry is becoming subordinated to the IT industry."

There are some hurdles ahead. Intelligent video technology is not yet mature, and false alarms are still a problem with some of the software. More significantly, concerns about privacy and legal due process are arising, especially as a result of the growing trend of using 24-hour video surveillance to monitor city streets and public places.

But none of those worries appears to be slowing down expansion in surveillance. Freeman expects the $7 billion global video surveillance industry to grow to $13 billion within five years. IT integrators' share of the revenue may be only about 10 percent now, but it is growing, Freeman said.

Closed-circuit TV surveillance systems have been around for decades, and London installed thousands of outdoor cameras in the 1990s in response to domestic terrorism. But only recently have video surveillance cameras become common in homeland security.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, as well as many seaports, military installations, utilities and industrial facilities have greatly expanded their use of video cameras for both homeland security and crime fighting. In many cases, federal Homeland Security Department grants are paying for the cameras.

In Chicago, for example, Mayor Richard Daley last fall announced a $5 million purchase of more than 250 high-definition cameras to be installed at various locations, both in high-crime areas and near critical infrastructure. The project supplements thousands of other video surveillance cameras already plugged into the city's emergency operations center.

As the market grows, IT integrators are playing a larger role. Northrop Grumman offers a management system "for huge enterprises to manage thousands or tens of thousands of cameras," said Bruce DeWitte, product manager for critical infrastructure protection. His target market includes utilities, chemical refineries, municipalities and other critical infrastructure sites.

Northrop Grumman also sells its own version of intelligent video, called AlertVideo, to analyze the content of what is being observed and to call attention to unusual events, such as a person making an unauthorized entry into a restricted zone.

"We created our own, because we could not find an off-the-shelf system that worked," DeWitte said.

Typical concerns with other systems include a high rate of false alarms and an inability to distinguish significant events from common "video noise," such as the motion of a flag waving, he said.

The new, networked video surveillance systems are much more advanced than what was typical in the past, when guards would continuously watch multiple television monitors.

"Guards can get overwhelmed with the amount of video content," DeWitte said.

EDS has discovered that many cities have had video cameras for years, but now they want to link them and make them more effective in fighting crime and protecting against terrorism, according to Steven Hutchens, homeland security director.

For example, cities may want to network their traffic-control cameras with the police department to assist in crime-fighting and counterterrorism efforts.

"We're cognizant of the need for video integration," Hutchens said. "We see it as a growth area." Clients often want a "one-stop" shop for networked security and access control, and video systems are part of that, he said.

Aside from the major IT integrators, a host of smaller firms are competing as well.

"Historically, video surveillance has been dominated by low-voltage technology," said John Honovich, president of Maximum Level Physical Protection Systems Corp. in Clearwater, Fla., a small IT integrator for video systems. "But in two to five years, the most valuable solutions for video surveillance will be IT-based."

Technical and legal challenges remain, especially as processing power for analyzing content competes with processing power to create higher-resolution images. Encryption can protect privacy, and "watermarking" technology can certify a video is authentic.

Intelligent video is one of the new technologies sparking change.

"History has shown that you need brains behind the eyeballs watching the videos," Lipton of ObjectVideo said.

Intelligent video may increase the effectiveness of surveillance -- by having the potential to interrupt a crime or attack in progress -- and it also has the benefits of reducing the need for guard personnel and data storage capacity, because it prioritizes which incidents require alarms and attention.

"Intelligent video is a huge trend," said Arthur Chang, president and CEO of Cradle Technologies Inc. in Mountain View, Calif., which makes digital signal processors. "We're moving from forensic analysis to preventative analysis."

Staff Writer Alice Lipowicz can be reached at alipowicz@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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