Looking into the Wild

Researchers study animal behavior with IP CCTV system

In a world haunted by crime, violence and the unexpected, it's comforting to know that CCTV surveillance keeps an eye on us in many of the places we go—from a stadium, a shopping mall or an airport, to the office parking lot at night.

But one IP video solution manufacturer recently installed a surveillance system at a less common location— the Vienna, Austria, Zoo—that is less focused on people than it is on pandas, rhinos and penguins.

An Inside View

Officials at the Vienna Zoo needed an updated CCTV and audio system for a new research program aimed at helping people better understand animal behavior—in particular, how they move. The zoo's previous system was based on analog cameras and wouldn't have been able to support the demands of the study.

Researchers sought a system that would provide very high frame rate, high-quality video so they would be able to accurately analyze the creatures' complex movements. But with the large video archive that would inevitably develop, they also sought a solution with remarkable storage capacity and compression technology.

The answer came from local integrator C&C Salzgeber GmbH, which designed and installed an IndigoVision solution that works well with the research program. The zoo's existing surveillance system was almost entirely overhauled.

"The original system was a Bosch analog solution that was technically not up to the specification required for the research," said David Salzgeber, managing director of C&C Salzgeber. "This was replaced with the IndigoVision system, with a number of the original cameras being reused and a number of new cameras being installed."

Fifteen fixed and PTZ cameras are used to record the pandas', rhinos' and penguins' behavior within their enclosures. Control Center, IndigoVision's IP video management software, manages the cameras and allows research technicians and students to control them in real time, and view live or recorded video.

Because the Control Center software is licensed on a per-seat basis, free of charge, the researchers have much more flexibility in their work. They deployed 10 workstations throughout the zoo and are able to copy recorded video onto external hard drives to view on their own laptops.

Compression Considerations

New microphones were installed alongside the cameras in each enclosure. Salzgeber said audio recordings aren't being utilized in this particular research project but will be used for future studies. Both the analog CCTV cameras and the ultra-sensitive microphones are connected to IndigoVision's 8000 transmitter/receiver modules, which digitally compress the video and audio for transmission over the network.

IndigoVision's advanced compression technology ensures minimal impact on the IP network. The ability to transmit and record high-quality audio was an important criteria for the zoo when choosing IndigoVision's solution.

"Really, the main issue was the size of the potential video archive that would build up over a period of time, recording high-quality video at full frame rate 24/7," Salzgeber said. "IndigoVision is acknowledged as having the best compression technology, which reduces the amount of NVR storage."

The project's cameras are continuously recording on an IndigoVision stand-alone NVR with 1 TB of storage. But the amount of stored video is considerably reduced by the Activity Controlled Framerate function, which is built into the 8000 modules. Salzgeber explained that ACF is especially useful when a scene is inactive—for example, when the animals are asleep. At those times, video is streamed at a much lower frame rate, which enables the zoo to store up to one year of recording on a single NVR. Once the system's motion analysis software detects movement again, the video automatically begins streaming at the full frame rate. And the researchers don't have to worry about the NVR failing; a secondary recorder provides redundancy in case of NVR failure or during maintenance.

A Natural Fit

Zoo officials have been pleased with the flexibility of the system.

"A key factor for us when selecting the video system was to find a future-proof solution that was easy to operate and could be incorporated into our existing infrastructure," said Dr. Dagmar Schratter, the zoo's director, in a press release. "Excellent compression means that all the video can be transferred via our existing network backbone."

The surveillance solution has even been a hit with the locals, because video of the animal research subjects can be exported to local TV stations. Recently, viewers were treated to footage of a baby panda being born, thanks to the IP video system.

The expandable nature of the IndigoVision solution will come in handy as the research project evolves. In the next stage of the study, the surveillance system will grow to encompass a new monkey house for both research and security.

This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Security Today.

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