Testing the Limits of Batteries and Waters of Technology

The task of staying abreast of new and upcoming fire technology is only surpassed by the job of servicing fire detection systems that show trouble. This month, “Fire Side Chat” looks at how servicing systems can be as easy to fix as replacing a set of batteries, while also taking a peek at a new technology where CCTV can detect fires. 

The first part of this month’s fire column involves a sure way to determine whether your client’s batteries are good or bad. The second part involves the use of video as a means of fire detection.

Eliminate Battery Guesswork

From 1977 to1990, I worked in the alarm field as a technician. During those years, it became apparent some clients needed more than my good word to convince them it was time to replace their depleted batteries.

How many times do you hear something to the effect of, “You’re just trying to make more money on me”? Perhaps there were some dealers who sold their clients on new batteries when the old ones were still good. At that time, there did not yet exist a simple battery tester that would accurately determine battery condition. Because of this, many end users were suspicious.

At the time, the only test we had was a voltage measurement over a battery with the AC power removed. We would monitor this voltage for a given period and then induce an alarm to see if the battery held its voltage. This method did not satisfy every client, nor did it always prove effective in determining battery condition.

Battery testing is now a science in itself. No longer is it necessary for security and fire alarm technicians to dance the jig in front of a client while trying to explain why their battery is bad.

According to Art Stone, owner of Stone Technologies Corp. in Austin, Texas, there are two classes of testers on the market to choose from. One is a load tester and the other is an internal resistance checker.

“Our 612 [see photo in June issue] is a load tester. It places a heavy load on the battery for a couple of minutes to see how it reacts,” Stone says. “Capacity testers, on the other hand, load the battery heavily for only a second or so and then measure internal resistance. Both test methods have their merits.”

Stone’s company is designing a dual-mode tester that will perform a load test and a capacity test on a battery. It will include a math program that will calculate the minimum battery capacity required for a system by entering the current requirement and time parameters on a keyboard. It will then compare the measured remaining amp hours under test conditions and tell you whether the battery will meet the minimum standby requirement.

No matter which test method you elect to use, it is highly advisable you employ one of them to verify the condition of your client’s batteries. It will also demonstrate your own professionalism in the work you do.

A Look at Fire Detection’s Future

Some years ago, while I was researching a fire-alarm technology story, I pondered the idea that one day a video system could be used to detect the presence of a fire in a building.

After all, in a world where video can be processed to create all sorts of features and benefits beyond simple video surveillance, it seemed like a natural fit for fire detection.
I’ve asked a few experts in the video field what they thought, but no one could give me the answer I wanted to hear – until now.

Based in Baltimore, axonX LLC has developed an artificial intelligence video processing system that detects visual characteristics associated with fire-like smoke and flames. The team of experts at axonX call it Machine Vision in a product they call SigniFire™.

According to axonX, “SigniFire, advanced vision-based artificial intelligence, can be used with ordinary surveillance video cameras to automatically detect the presence of open flames and smoke in video images and triggers necessary fire alarms.”

By viewing and processing specific areas of a facility using conventional video cameras, and by using advanced algorithms and processing techniques, it is possible to identify the typical visual characteristics associated with fire. After all, where there is heat and smoke, there must be fire.

According to a report on fire detection using advanced detection technologies, “CCTV technology has a great advantage for use on sensing and monitoring a fire. Compared with other types of fire detectors, the video cameras cannot be fooled by visible emissions from common background sources, eliminating false alarm problems.

“It processes multiple spectral images in real-time to reliably detect a small fire or smoke at greater distances in very short times. And at the same time, it can identify the location of a fire, track its growth and monitor fire suppression” (From a review of recent developments in fire detection technologies, authored by Liu, Z.; Kim, A.K., published by the National Research Council of Canada).

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory issued a similar report on the trial use of video as a means of fire detection. It compared commercial video systems with long-wavelength video detection in a report, “Long Wavelength Video-Based Event Detection,” by Daniel A. Steinhurst and Christian P. Minor of Nova Research Inc. They evaluated and compared long-wave video (night vision) and commercial video with special processing algorithms. Testing took place aboard the former USS Shadwell, which is now the Naval Research Laboratory’s full-scale fire research facility in Mobile, Ala.

“Our system performed the best out of the vision-based systems detecting the most fires with the fewest false alarms,” says Mac Mottley, CEO of axonX.

According to the Naval research report, “While there is limited data available so far … the axonX SigniFire software was able to successfully generate alarms based on reflected NIR emission from flaming sources, including sources outside the camera FOV, using video from the archive database of the night-vision cameras. Further testing and algorithm development is clearly required, particularly in the area of false alarm rejection. This work is ongoing.”

For an old visionary, the advent of such a product is no surprise. Although video may not become an accepted means of fire detection overnight in large facilities, the fire protection community could use it as a means of prealarm.

Prealarm would enable security to inspect visually an area suspected of harboring a developing fire. Because the prealarm is based on visual information, this would quickly lead to the identification of a potentially dangerous situation before enough smoke or heat has developed to trigger an alarm in a traditional fire system.

Prealarm is a popular feature among fire technicians when installing special-hazard systems whose mission is to put out a fire. These fire detection systems not only alert occupants of a potential threat, but also help put the fire out by either administering water, CO2 or some other specialized fire-suppressant chemical.

Such fire suppression is not a light matter. The aftermath associated with this type of situation is often costly, time-consuming and expensive. Prealarm allows the occupants of a facility to visually inspect the situation before discharge takes place.

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