The Intelligent Edge
Although IP cameras and encoders represent a relatively small percentage of the total video camera market today, the situation is changing due to technology advances that are enabling new capabilities and bringing costs more in line with the analog market. In this article we explore these new advances and the impact they are having on system design and economics.
Not all cameras with analytic capabilities work well with all analytic software, however. Partnerships between camera and software manufacturers have been a key factor in enhancing interoperability. “Every week we’re contacted by more guys who want to start taking advantage of intelligence at the edge,” Bodell comments.
The Open Network Video Interface Forum wants to help make equipment more interoperable in the future. Dr. Bob Banerjee, product marketing manager for Fairport, N.Y.-based Bosch Security Systems, describes the forum’s history. “Axis Communications, Sony and Bosch got together and said, ‘We need to get people to adopt IP video faster, so we’ll come up with a standard way for everyone who writes software to treat all hardware equally,’” he explains.
Some integrators are not letting a lack of standards stop them from pushing video analytics at the edge. Consiliant Technologies, an Irvine, Calif.-based integrator, proposes video analytics embedded in the camera on 50 percent of proposals to its customer base, which includes data centers, schools, police departments and other large enterprises.
“It’s core to our message,” explains Kevin Dailey, vice president of the security group for Consiliant. Salespeople for the company explain to customers that video analytics can mechanize a passive camera so that it can “identify violations and intrusions rather than documenting failures,” Dailey says. Alternatively, customers are told, “they can spend 90 percent of the cost and get 50 percent of the functionality,” comments Dailey. After listening to that pitch, between 10 and 20 percent of customers choose the higher priced but more proactive option.
There are several specific applications where IP cameras with built-in analytics are particularly effective, sources say. Whiteman notes, for example, that an IP camera with internal motion detection may be less costly than an analog camera that uses an external PIR for the same purpose â€” particularly if the area to be covered is large.
Fredrick Nilsson, general manager of the Americas for IP camera manufacturer Axis Communications of Chelmsford, Mass., adds that in comparison with traditional photoelectric beams, IP cameras with embedded analytics can do a more effective job of counting people coming through a door.
Security professionals need to recognize the limitations of analytics at the edge, however â€” particularly when no central processing is involved. As Jack Cabasso, managing director of Hauppauge, NY.-based video supplier Aventura Technologies explains, analytic capability often is hard-coded into video cameras, which limits the installer’s ability to adjust the device. “People like to say the cameras are plug-and-play but it usually takes about half a day to install one camera,” Cabasso says, adding that installers often have to return to the site to reposition the camera to avoid false alarms caused by weather or other environmental conditions.
“There are a number of things that don’t require heavy processing and can be done successfully at the edge, such as identifying left or removed objects,” Cabasso concedes. But he argues that, “The real benefit of analytics comes in where you’re doing software functions where you can tweak and optimize it.”
“The capacity of storage that you can put at the edge is increasing dramatically,” Bodell comments. “It’s incredibly inexpensive today to put 32 gigabytes of recording at the edge.”
As Bodell explains, “When the NVR first came out, it streamed everything back to one location. But now more sophisticated NVRs and video management software are saying, ‘We don’t care where the video is stored; we’ll collect and present it to you in a nice fashion.’”
Bodell predicts that within the next 18 months, virtually every NVR will offer compatibility with edge storage, which could further reduce the amount of bandwidth that must be transmitted on the network.
Banerjee has a different vision. He believes NVRs could be eliminated by letting cameras handle NVR tasks. “If all you want to do is record and playback video and search, you can put that functionality into the camera and the camera can talk across the network to hard drives,” he says. “The implication is the installer doesn’t have to sell, install or maintain servers, anti-virus software and patches. The camera is a piece of firmware that is rarely updated.”
Some manufacturers already have moved in this direction by enabling individual cameras to talk directly across the network to one another with the goal of simplifying â€” and enhancing â€” system control. For example, a fixed camera with video content analysis could be used to detect a suspicious person and to send a message directly to a PTZ camera to track any such people it detects. Banerjee contrasts that with the traditional approach, where the fixed camera would send an alert to the video management system, which would then direct the PTZ camera.
By enabling the cameras to talk directly to one another, Banerjee says, “You bypass the single point of failure in the middle and it becomes a fully intelligent system with no video management system. All you need is a Web browser to look at a camera or a recording.”
Another new capability found in some IP cameras is two-way audio. Although eavesdropping laws make audio recording impractical in some parts of the United States, Nilsson says pre-recorded audio warnings are useful deterrents that can be triggered in response to motion detection or another external event.