The UK has long been heralded as the CCTV capital of the world. If you believe what you read in the papers, then the 4.2 million cameras in Britain are roughly equivalent to one camera for every 14 people. They sit outside banks, in the street and increasingly in rail stations around the nation, where security, after the terrorist attack in London on 7 July 2005, has become an important focus.
Like most western nations, the surveillance debate in the UK has been ongoing for some time. On one side the civil liberties lobby looks to minimise state intrusion. On the other, the security services look to balance the safety of the nation. On the face of it, it's the classic left / right conundrum but it is the realities of the massive grey area in between that will have people debating the relative pros and cons for years to come.
Despite this, a recent report by US-based ABI Research projected that global spending on video surveillance in the transportation sector is set to more than double to $2bn by 2013. The factors contributing to this rise go beyond its use in security – many transport hubs have begun to use cameras in order to document accidents and guard against bogus litigation. An even bigger rise is projected for the retail market, of up to $4bn by 2013, as video surveillance is used to analyse customer behaviour patterns for market research.
CCTV itself has taken giant leaps forward. Today we have intelligent CCTV that can see, hear, speak and think for itself. While this may not be in common use just yet, the technology is just around the corner.
One of the major benefactors of such technology could very well be rail. The UK alone has already shown interest in increasing its security measures – a move that could very well make some of its stations pioneers of new CCTV technologies.
CCTV technology: all the better for seeing and hearing
Video analytics is providing the keystone for much of this transformation of CCTV technology and the rail sector is undoubtedly interested in what it has to offer. London's Clapham Junction Station is in the process of having its own video analytics CCTV system installed. Dubbed as 'intelligent', it uses advanced technology to pick up and pinpoint unusual behaviour. Instead of human operators sensing criminal activity or detecting graffiti the system will do it, alerting operators to potential hotspots.
In the past this type of smart CCTV has been criticised for its lack of effectiveness and cost but as the technology matures it is becoming a more attractive proposition. Video analytics works by analysing video for specific data and behaviour. The advantages it offers above traditional CCTV technology are obvious – the technology can think for itself.
Early research shows that by processing massive amounts of digitised data it would be possible to programme computers to see through integrating video intelligence with security cameras. The one caveat to this brave new world was providing the necessary processing power, bandwidth and funding.
Since then, video analytics solutions have been fast-tracked all over the world. The terrorist attack on 11 September 2001 in New York threw this into sharp relief, highlighting the urgent need for better security systems.
Systems now analyse surveillance video in real time and with the advent of digital technology, surveillance has migrated across to the digital IP-based network environment. Not without its critics, video analytics has stumbled across the odd adversary – the aforementioned bandwidth issue being top among them.
Agent Vi is one of the pioneers in this area. The CCTV system being installed at Clapham Junction is one of theirs. Agent Vi developed a system that met the dual demands of providing high-end video intelligence, functionality and reliability at a comparatively low cost and bandwidth requirement. Easily integrated with existing analogue CCTV systems, its video analytics solutions provide automatic scene analysis and event detection to meet the challenging security needs of the 21st century.
Pilots are even underway in London for the live streaming of such technology. Clapham Junction may not be getting such capability drawn into its technology, but if a London bus network appears to benefit from such capability it could very well be seen as a requirement for the future.
Technology vendor 21st Century CCTV has created the LIVEview system – 16 cameras live streamed through a cellular broadband gateway developed by Icomera.
The technology involved is proven. What is not is its practical use in driving the best response from police and TfL to crime on London's buses.
The incidental benefits are also of interest in the current economic climate. The package monitors driver efficiency through a real-time LED display that can assist in reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions.
It is not only sight that is getting a look over with CCTV technology. Researchers at the University of Portsmouth in the UK are actively researching software that recognises sounds.
Cameras will be able to recognise noises associated with crime such as breaking glass and aggressive language. According to Dr David Brown who is leading the team, cameras "will be able to swivel to the direction of the sound at the same speed someone turns their head" (within about 300 milliseconds).
Such software could help the operators alert police to trouble spots much faster, and dramatically reduce the amount of time police need to trawl through CCTV footage for evidence of crimes.
The future for CCTV
At recent conference looking into next-generation CCTV held in London, CCTV website founder Patrick Meaney (of videoanalytics.info) described CCTV as the next generation of forensics. He says the technology allows for the automated analysis of recorded video for extracting incidents of interest for reducing crime. He also drew on the cost benefits of video analytics – particularly in light of past failures of CCTV to deliver.
"Technology is perceived to be adding real value to the mix," he said. "For the first time we can talk about security in terms of a ROI rather than being a grudge purchase".
In a modern metropolis such as London, the benefits of CCTV far surpass catching out the odd bit of shoplifting. It has massive implications for the entire urban infrastructure.
Security on transport systems will be reliant on effective, fast response to information being relayed between systems and control centres.
CCTV is already the eyes and ears that facilitate this and now intelligent CCTV and video analytics could be promising to take this a step further to be the brains behind the operation.