What kinds of novel applications for video surveillance do you spy on the horizon?

When is a video surveillance camera not a video surveillance camera? The answer is probably, “never.” From machine-vision processes, to medical procedures, to fire-fighting aids, to traditional physical security, all of these applications for cameras fall loosely under the umbrella of “surveillance” — providing a set of eyes where it would be impossible or impractical for human eyes to go.

It’s thrilling to be part of a phenomenon that has no finite end in sight — that is, the explosion of video surveillance applications, whether strictly for security or for related purposes. The physical security industry’s video surveillance segment has experienced significant growth thus far. IMS Research in “The World Market for CCTV and Video Surveillance Equipment — 2010 Edition” forecast about 9 percent growth in 2010, over a dismal 2009 market. But I believe that’s minor compared to what we’ll see in the coming years.

For example, the number of apps available for iPhone® and other smart mobile devices to allow remote video monitoring grows monthly, it seems. Some of these mobile apps bypass traditional security channels, but an equal number stem from companies we know and love, such as Alarm.com, Control4, Honeywell Total Connect, Xanboo, Home Automation Inc. (HAI), and Napco Security.

This presents an entirely new opportunity to security dealers, one that encompasses the most important three letters in their alphabet — RMR. With an existing market of anywhere from 20 million to 30 million already installed residential alarm systems, dealers have a ripe opportunity to approach these system owners about adding interactive capabilities so they can control their alarms on the go — as well as adding cameras that homeowners can watch remotely. Hurrah for this new infusion of life given to the home security system sector!

Back in August at the Rapid Response Users Group meeting, the attendees had a special opportunity to hear renowned Dr. Eric Haseltine speak about how to spot big opportunities, or “blips” on the horizon, and how to respond to them faster. He said that evolution has hardwired into our brains a preference for focusing on urgent, near-term problems at the expense of important, long-term opportunities. Haseltine’s advice: Look long, but act short.

Now fast-forward to late September, when I attended a “media day” for editors from various industries, hosted by Chicago-based Schneider Electric. This $23 billion company owns the systems integrators ITG Solutions Inc. as well as TAC (Andover Controls), and video surveillance manufacturer Pelco. The editors’ meeting focused on conveying the company’s newest message: Schneider Electric is a global specialist in energy management. Along with that came news that the company has reorganized its U.S. business to better meet customers’ growing energy management needs. Security falls under the Buildings Business and is headed in the Americas by senior vice president, Jim Sandelin.

In laying out Schneider Electric’s new strategy before the editors, U.S. Country president, Jeffrey Drees, said, “Clean energy and carbon reduction, preparing for smart grid with smart buildings — these are just a few of the issues on our customers’ minds.” He said that as the company develops new products, it will do so with an eye towards convergence and the opportunity for the products to fit into the scope of energy management solutions. Obviously, security stands on its own as a growth opportunity, but the additional tie-in of security to energy management is intriguing.

I think this brings to mind an interesting concept: the possibility that video surveillance products in the future may help customers manage their energy usage and thus reduce their expenses and carbon emissions. Just in passing, Sandelin referenced the capabilities of thermal imaging to this end. Analytic-embedded video cameras also could be employed to detect occupancy and trigger adjustments in energy usage.

Is it a stretch of the imagination to think that video surveillance cameras could be used in this way? Was it a stretch 15 years ago to think that you could watch live, streaming video on your cell phone? As the children’s game, “I Spy with My Little Eye” proves, there is never a lack of detail in the universe to be observed.