Ushering in a New Era

Ushering in a New Era

Consumers are more concerned with how their activities are being tracked

Privacy issues continue to dominate headlines as the world’s biggest companies are being challenged on the ways they collect and use people’s data. Consumers are growing more concerned about how their activities are being tracked across the web as companies sell information to advertisers for a profit.

At the same time, the public is worried about how different types of technologies are tracking them offline. Facial recognition technology, powered by artificial intelligence to match images against various databases, has become particularly controversial. While consumers are fine with some implementations of facial recognition technology, such as unlocking their smartphone or tagging their friends in photo albums, the bigger concern is how it could be used for surveillance.

In May, San Francisco banned the use of facial recognition technology by city agencies, as legislators argued that the technology infringes on people’s privacy. Other cities are also considering regulating facial recognition technology as the debate around it continues to heat up. As businesses look to upgrade their security systems, privacy concerns will increasingly be a key factor in purchasing decisions. So what alternatives do businesses have as they work to keep people safe and protect their assets?

The Next Generation of Security

Lidar technology promises to usher in a new era of anonymized security. While lidar is best known for enabling cars to autonomously navigate, lidar is ideal for a wide range of use cases including security, industrial, IoT, mapping and transport applications. Lidar works by using lasers to calculate the distance between itself and other objects. This creates a point cloud with a threedimensional representation of people and objects in an area.

With its high-resolution imaging, lidar offers a number of advantages over both traditional security systems and modern facial recognition systems. However, the biggest differentiator is that lidar enables robust surveillance while still protecting people’s privacy. With the ability to detect, track and classify objects, lidar systems can be configured to only highlight potential threats, guaranteeing the anonymity of people or objects not deemed a threat. While lidar does not show facial features, the imaging data is high resolution and 3D, providing valuable information about an object’s location, velocity and size.

Compared to current technologies where everyone’s biometric data is captured and stored, regardless of whether they are involved in a security incident, lidar is a considerable step forward for anonymized surveillance.

Security Pain Points

Currently, some of the most commonly deployed technologies in security systems are radar, cameras (including thermal cameras) and microwave sensors. While they each have a number of advantages, none can form a complete and robust system alone, as each technology has its own shortcomings, including:

  • Low accuracy: Radar, for example, is not able to deliver resolution high enough to accurately identify potential threats.
  • Constrained operating environment: Most cameras require good lighting conditions to collect high resolution data. Thermal cameras can see in the dark but will struggle with situations where the thermal signature of the target object matches with that of its surroundings. Microwave sensors are affected by moisture, so security systems using that technology tend to have poorer performance in bad weather.
  • Only 2D imaging: While the human eye can identify 3D perspectives of an object, camera image analytics is still struggling with that. And without reference points, even the human eye cannot perceive the size of an object accurately. Other 3D information that is critical for security applications, such as location and velocity, is difficult to determine in 2D imaging.
  • Interference: Electromagnetic interference is a problem for technologies like radar and microwave sensors, so they cannot be used for critical infrastructure with a lot of steelwork.
  • Data storage and transmission: The data capacity from camera- based systems is extremely large, which poses a challenge to store, transmit and process the data for immediate perception and analytics.

Advantages of Lidar Technology

Lidar enables security systems to automatically detect many different types of threats, such as when a perimeter has been breached, and classify objects, such as a person or a car. Companies can also classify alarms for different types of situations. With lidar systems that integrate the sensor with perception software, companies can immediately identify threats and respond to a situation to resolve the issue. Lidar also reduces the number of false positives with its advanced object detection capabilities, enabling security teams to more efficiently use their resources.

Lidar produces high resolution three-dimensional point cloud data, providing an extremely accurate map of an area. This data can be supplemented with information from other data sources for an even more detailed scan of an environment. Additionally, lidar technology can see in the day and at night, providing companies with reliable 24/7 surveillance.

Another benefit of lidar is it has a high tolerance to interference, making it difficult to hack. While someone with a special device and custom clothing might be able to trick thermal cameras, it’s much tougher to fool lidar technology. Radar and other microwave sensing technologies are also subject to interference with metal, whereas lidar works fine even in environments with a lot of steelwork.

While traditional lidar systems were expensive, lidar has become much more affordable over the past few years. Factoring in the number of lidar units needed for a particular environment and the cost per unit—taking into consideration a lidar sensor’s range, angle and resolution—the overall cost of a lidar surveillance system is quite competitive compared to other security solutions. As lidar starts to be produced at scale for autonomous cars and other smart machines, the costs will be driven down further.

Setting up Lidar Systems

Lidar technology helps to fill the gaps of other security solutions and can be integrated into systems that use cameras, radar and other types of sensors. For long range detection, radar technology is useful for triggering an initial response or alarm. For medium range detection – up to 150 to 300 meters, depending on the sensor – lidar can detect and classify threats and trigger a secondary response or alarm.

Lidar sensors can be set up in combination with edge computing devices to process information directly at the edge—or “locally”—to use less computing power than traditional security solutions. Processing information at the edge also helps security systems analyze information faster. If an intruder is entering a secured area, for example, it’s critical that security systems can immediately detect the threat so companies can handle the situation before it becomes dangerous. Additionally, lidar transmits only a fraction of the information a video would and uses far less data storage and network bandwidth. This enables lidar to be used for more mobile installations, such as sensors set up along the perimeter of a remote field.

Use Cases for Lidar Technology

Enabling high-resolution 3D perception at an affordable price, lidar-based solutions will be ideal for airports, corporate campuses, government facilities, ports, schools, retail, tourist and recreational sites and transport infrastructure. Because lidar can be integrated with cameras, radar and other types of sensors, it can be used in a wide variety of security applications.

In areas where there is a risk for crime, such as a parking lot where break-ins might happen, lidar can help owners keep their property safe even with limited security personnel. Critical infrastructure and facilities can also benefit from lidar technology, even for vast areas of land where a large number of security systems need to be deployed. Lidar can be used in crowded stadiums, theme parks and arenas to monitor crowd flow, or airports and train stations where security systems need to identify suspicious incidents like someone leaving unattended baggage behind.

Most importantly, lidar protects the public’s privacy, so people who are not involved in security incidents can remain anonymous. As companies upgrade their security systems from traditional setups to modern solutions, lidar will help deliver on the promise of smarter and more connected cities that also respect people’s privacy.

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Security Today.

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