Converting Analytics’ Cool Factor Into Cash

You’ve heard about it and possibly witnessed a demo, but until this point you’ve probably relegated video analytics to the realm of novelty. Find out why a leading expert in the potentially transformative technology says content analysis is now ready to be taken as seriously as a heart attack.


The human eye, while an amazing sensory organ, doesn’t see all on its own. Sight only happens when visual information from the retina travels from the eye and is interpreted by the brain. A parallel can be drawn with a modern-day video surveillance system, where the camera is the eye and video content analytics the semblance of a brain.

While no substitute for human intelligence, video analytics can do something mere mortals cannot. With its processing power and predefined algorithms, video analytics can process thousands of live video feeds, simultaneously, and pick out tidbits of information that would otherwise go undetected by the human eye.

So what are the applications for video content analytics in the real world? And where is video content analytics making a measurable difference? To uncover those answers and many more, SSI interviewed John Jackson, a 15-year software industry veteran, video content analytics expert and solutions engineer for Rutherford, N.J.-based NICE Systems.

Perimeter Security Is a Top Use

Your career in video surveillance has spanned almost a decade. Looking back five to 10 years, what were the capabilities then vs. today?

Jackson: After 9/11, a lot of video analytics companies popped up out of nowhere. They did a lot of overpromising in terms of what they said they could deliver. A good example is facial recognition – the idea that somebody could walk through an airport and get picked out, if they were on a list. I know of several airports that tried this. The reality is it works in a laboratory environment, but it didn’t work as well in the real world.

I think today we’re seeing more proposals that reflect what can realistically be deployed. For example, facial capture or facial cataloging, which creates a list of facial images that can then be parsed by a human, can easily be implemented and has broad appeal in certain types of security applications.

What are some of the security-focused applications where video content analytics are being deployed today?

John Jackson: That really depends on the vertical market. In the transportation sector, the prime application we’re seeing for content analytics is perimeter protection. It might be used, for example, to make sure no one hops over an airport fence or onto a railroad or subway track. Perimeter protection is also frequently deployed to protect critical infrastructures, like utilities and banks.

Content analytics can be used alone or in conjunction with physical boundaries for perimeter protection. It’s what we sell the most of, what we see most frequently deployed, and by far the most effective application overall. The rule is very simple. If an object or person is on one side of a perimeter and ends up on the other, the perimeter has been breached, and an alert is triggered.

Another popular application is counter-flow, which can detect people moving in the wrong direction into restricted areas. This is typically used in airports.

Possibilities of Tracking People

What about beyond security applications; what else is the technology being used for?

Jackson: There are two areas that come to mind. One is table game management for casinos, which uses analytics to track playing cards, player decisions, ID cards and game outcomes. This helps the casino not only identify cheaters and collusion, but comp players more effectively.

Casinos, banks and other retail facilities also use video analytics for people counting. They want to know how many customers they have, when and where, so they can staff accordingly.

It’s amazing how much businesses don’t know about their customer dynamics. But when you add in people counting using video analytics, you’re able to get real-time alerts and trend data.

How does it work and in what form is the people counting trend data presented?

Jackson: It’s actually presented in a graphical format. What happens is that as people move from one area of the camera to another, they’re counted as either going in or coming out. The system can analyze and capture the data over days, weeks or months so you’re able to see when your peak times are and then determine trends. The data can also be exported to a third-party application like Microsoft Excel for analysis so you can see if the data shows a consistent trend or an anomaly.

Can you give an example of where people counting has been successfully deployed?

Jackson: One example would be an airport. Using the people counting analytics the airport was able to actually see how many people were moving through their security exits and entrances at certain times. What they discovered was that there were much higher volumes of people going through the security exits at certain times of the day. And they were able to use that information to staff accordingly.

That same analytics can be applied to line control to detect when a queue of people exceeds a certain length. For example, if an airport security entrance backs up beyond this point, the system could alert that more screeners are needed.

This technology has also been deployed in hotels, casinos and many different types of retail establishments.

That’s an interesting use of video analytics. Have you been involved with any other creative analytics applications?

Jackson: There are a couple of other boutique applications. We have an asset protection application we’ve deployed at a museum. If somebody picks a painting off the wall, an alarm will sound. This is actually based on analytics we use for other applications to detect objects – for example, vehicle detection.

An example would be the airport curbside where you’re not allowed to park. Just as the system would detect an object being removed from a particular spot, as in the latter example, in this case, it would detect a vehicle parked in an unauthorized location.

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