A sneak peek at the future of surveillance

The video surveillance industry has traditionally been slow-moving but the evolution of lenses and mechanics holds the promise of true innovation.

The world of technology is changing rapidly, influencing the security surveillance industry and how businesses and consumers engage with it. In the coming year we will see trends emerge driven by technology and industry standards, but also by the market and its demand for integration between everyday technology and customers’ security needs.

It’s difficult to make predictions. But with technology, there are rules and trends that can be relied upon for guidance.

One of these is Moore’s law from 1965, which states that you will get twice as many transistors/performance for the same amount of money, every 18 months. This is still valid today. In fact, since Axis Communications introduced the world’s first network camera over 16 years ago, network camera performance for resolution and frame rate has increased by roughly the same factor, or more than 1000 times. Moore’s law also drives an increase in processing power at the edge, which in turn drives our connectivity to, and growth of, the Internet of Things where any physical object will be connected to the Internet and is able to identify itself to other devices.

Moore’s law will continue to offer exciting development for the future but there are still many areas within video surveillance, like the evolution of lenses and mechanics, where we need to continue to look for true innovation.

It’s worth remembering that the video surveillance market has traditionally been slow-moving. A good example of this is the evolution of analog video, an invention from the 1940s. The latest, and last real improvement to analog video was the addition of color, invented in the 70s.

But thankfully, the industry is now tipping to all-IP, where we’ll see many more and much faster innovations. So let’s list some predictions, beginning with the technology-driven ones.

Increased capacity for edge storage

We have seen edge storage become a standard and common feature, now fully integrated with most video management systems. Today, as memory cost continuously decreases, a 32 GB memory card is standard, and 64 GB will soon overtake 32 GB as a common minimum, with 128 GB cards now also shipping. But we all know Moore’s law is still working for us giving us more and more memory over time. So for the coming 1-2 years I believe the main trend now is in edge storage.

Hard disks are also following the path of Moore’s Law with terabyte hard drives and the falling cost of raw gigabytes. Flash drives are becoming volume products, roughly doubling in capacity every year. SDXC cards will also be up to two TB in a few years. The increase in edge storage and the falling cost of data will continue to enable the 'Internet of Things', connecting us and storing our data, not only in a computer but also in the real world.

Edge storage in network video allows for decentralised storage eliminating the need for an onsite server, DVR, NVR or PC for recorded video. Additionally, with fail-over recording, temporary data can be stored in the network camera in case of network failure, providing increased system reliability. Network cameras with edge storage are also optimised for low bandwidth applications.

More processing power for higher performance

We have all experienced how Moore’s law has given much faster computers and cheap microprocessors that are implemented in almost every single device you can find today. You can use this evolution for many things and the most common one is to increase the performance of the microprocessors, the CPU, which makes it possible to run the software a lot faster. This is of course true for a network camera as well but this is not enough as fundamental functions like Image Processors and Noise cancelling need even higher performance; the answer is to use Moore’s law to implement it in the hard ware.  Hard ware acceleration gives much higher performance but a lot less flexibility, you need to design for a specific purpose. To drive and lead the network camera evolution, dedicated chip development is necessary, and that’s why Axis develops its own Artpec chips.

The increased performance in network cameras video paves the way for vastly improved light sensitivity, enhanced

 H.264 compression and next generation of in-camera analytics.

With the proliferation of multi-use devices such as smart phones, TVs etc., increased processing power will continue to expand our connection to the Internet of Things.

Image quality - set to surpass the human eye

Image sensors are evolving at a rapid pace and there is basically no more research and development in standard definition (SD) image sensors. The shift in the market to high-definition resolution and quality is now a fact and a major driver for IP. 

In the coming year we will see analogue cameras being taken down as end users opt to move to 720p  and 1080o HDTV and even higher resolutions. There will be niche markets for super-high resolutions, but for the vast majority, the standardised HDTV cameras are a good middle ground.

The human eye still outperforms the majority of video cameras in many aspects, but the turning point when a network camera is superior to the human eye is approaching fast. Today there are technologies that beat human vision in various aspects – such as super-low light color cameras, improved dynamic range (WDR/HDR) and thermal/infrared cameras. In the case of low light there are a combination of factors coming together to master such situations. There are new, increasingly sensitive image sensors designed specifically for the surveillance industry, new chip technology with powerful image processing reducing noise and better optical components with low F values (aperture) and high resolution.

But still the human eye is superior in the combination of all these scenarios as well as in identifying objects. The challenge now for all research and development departments is to take image quality beyond the performance of the human eye.

Applications & analytics- The future of intelligent communication

So what about the future of intelligent communication? Network cameras are intelligent, communicating in both directions and not just simply a video generator. Through proactive surveillance they can trigger events based on intelligent analysis of video content and also allow operators to give instructions for optimum camera functionality. For standardised analytics the surveillance camera can be used for people counting, cross line detection, license plate recognition and facial recognition.  My prediction is that most successful analytics deployments will be in the retail space. One challenge though that slows down widespread implementation of analytics in the industry is the complex patent situation.

Hosted video-raising the number of IP cameras in use

Finally, I see video-as-a-service becoming a trend. This is something I have been evangelising for quite a while and today we see many of the pieces coming together. A hosted solution limits your investment to a network camera and an Internet connection, instead of having to maintain a recording and monitoring system locally. The service provider will manage system maintenance as well as storage of recorded data. The solution is ideal for low camera counts per site in single or multiple locations such as convenience stores, gas stations, retail stores, and small offices. Even many of the largest integrators are pushing hosted video.

After all, we tend to trust the cloud with our emails, documents and even finances. Why shouldn’t the cloud offer us video surveillance as well?  This, in combination with local storage in cameras, will start a revolution in the world of surveillance for smaller sites where analogue still dominates. Along with pay as you go services, this will be the main driver toward reaching close to 100 per cent penetration for IP cameras in the world, which could be as early as 2020 based on today’s pace for new installations.

Hosted video will bring us many new applications of video that we haven’t even thought of yet.  Alarm verification with video, construction site monitoring and even city surveillance systems will all benefit from hosted solutions. 

Wai King Wong is the country manager for Axis Commuications South Pacfic division. 


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