Smart Thermal Imaging Paves Way for Outdoor Security Services

Hosted or managed services are moving beyond the realm of the facility. Learn how advanced thermal cameras with onboard image processing provide recurring revenue opportunities by protecting the perimeter.

The developing trend toward the use of security as a service (SaaS) to secure outdoor assets has brought value to both end users and integrators. For the end user the advantages are seen in access to improved technology, fixed costs and higher levels of physical security. For the integrator, it’s an opportunity to develop long-term relationships with the customer that can enhance profitability and growth and heighten their value as a security expert.

New Technology Supports Outdoor Applications

Within the industry, intrusion detection managed by a third party and provided as an ongoing service is well established for indoor environments. This has created a foundation for applying a similar model for protecting outdoor assets — a model in which the integrator installs, maintains and manages a physical security solution that provides intrusion detection, alarm verification and response.

For integrators, the key to providing effective managed security services leading to market growth has been the development of accurate detection sensors that provide trustworthy alarms that can be quickly verified. Until recently, the performance of automated security systems used for protecting outdoor assets has been disappointing, due to of impact of the uncontrolled outdoors that has, in the past, reduced effectiveness.

For instance, cameras shake from wind gusts and vibrations from trucks, trains, and other sources, causing alerts; moving leaves, clouds, rain, snow, and water reflections also generate unwanted alarms. At one time, such environmental issues reduced the feasibility of building a stable managed services business for securing outdoor areas.

Smart Solutions for Managed Services

There are two critical needs to make managed services viable for outdoor applications. The first is a sensing system that is accurate, 24 hours per day, particularly in detecting and distinguishing between what is relevant and what is not. The second is a system that first responders can use to see what caused the alarm, providing credibility. Of all the sensing systems used to detect intrusions outdoors, smart thermal cameras — which deliver thermal imaging combined with advanced video analytics residing within the camera — represent the best approach for generating the accurate, verifiable alerts needed for successful managed services.

Because smart thermal cameras “see” heat rather than light, they are a perfect “human detector,” and will ignore headlights, reflections off water or other activity that may cause false alerts for visible cameras. Today’s thermal cameras now operate very accurately in both complete darkness and bright sun, making them a stable 24/7 solution. They can be used in all environments around the world, from the arctic to the desert, and are impervious to harsh weather conditions.

Smart thermal cameras can employ very accurate size filters to eliminate small animals and other nonrelevant activity, reducing nuisance alerts and raising their detection accuracy. These smart thermal cameras are designed to filter the effects of environmental elements and provide detection over large areas, regardless of wind, weather or the movement of small animals, trees or blowing trash. In short, these cameras extend the functionality of an indoor intrusion alarm to the outdoors — with virtually none of the nuisance alerts or false detects that have plagued other solutions in the past.

Image processing is the key for allowing smart thermal cameras to reach the level of detection accuracy necessary for building an effective managed service business. When video analytics are placed inside a camera, and a high degree of video processing is used to analyze the raw video as it comes off the imager, every video frame at full resolution is available for the video content analysis.

This approach is contrasted with older solutions where the video content analysis was performed outside of the camera, on a server or separate encoder. The drawback to this approach is that once video has been compressed and sent over the network to a back-end device for analysis, there is not enough video detail available to distinguish relevant motion such as a human intruder from irrelevant motion such as trash or trees blowing in the wind. The result was an overabundance of nuisance alarms caused by nonsecurity-related motion. For this reason, today’s smart cameras that use onboard image processing are able to achieve the results required for managed security.

Image processing in today’s smart cameras is also used to present a very clear, detailed thermal image even in low-contrast situations such as fog, rain and humidity, while overcoming “white-out” problems once caused by bright sun. Objects that once blended into the background due to outdoor conditions are now revealed, details are clearer at greater ranges, and the results are particularly striking in hot weather during the daytime. Thermal cameras now provide detail approaching a black-and-white video instead of the blurrier images once associated with the technology.

Most important for managed services, not only do smart thermal cameras deliver accurate detection, they also combine 24-hour video verification into a single system. Such verification is needed to give credibility and priority to first responders. Rather than having to purchase, deploy and integrate two disparate systems for detection and for video, smart thermal cameras utilize a single system to accomplish both. This is clearly a more cost-effective strategy for installation, maintenance and use.

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