Outdoor Analytics Inspired Sightlogix's Beginnings

In the next few weeks, we’re running a series of stories on the origins of familiar security companies. We’ll look back through their pasts to see how they got their start. You know the names, now learn the history!

Six months after the Sept. 11 attacks, John Romanowich participated in a security survey at Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site. The Port Authority was just starting to reconstruct the train system, and Romanowich was asked to recommend an automated video system to protect the construction site. “It was a very frustrating experience,” Romanowich recalled. “We were in the middle of arguably the richest, most powerful city in the world at the site of our nation's most devastating security event, but the capability for video to adequately protect such an important reconstruction project simply didn't exist.”

It was a realization that led to the founding of SightLogix, a company that has since transformed video analytics technology to deliver accurate, cost-efficient outdoor security at facilities around the world.

Romanowich had held management positions in video technologies with Intel, IBM and the Sarnoff Corporation, and he co-founded Pyramid Vision Technologies, which worked with intelligent video surveillance and was acquired by L3 Communications. In 2004, he brought together a group of fellow entrepreneurs, video imaging experts and computing engineers from Sarnoff, Panasonic and AT&T Bell Labs to found SightLogix.

New Approach to Outdoor Analytics
At the time of SightLogix's genesis in the early 2000s, market dynamics were converging to create ideal timing for a new approach to outdoor security. IP network-based solutions were replacing analog solutions, and new video management system (VMS) players were challenging entrenched companies and providing good value.

Several companies were offering video analytic software systems, but none had been designed to address outdoor secure requirements adequately. Video analytics systems operate by detecting movement, but outdoors, everything moves. Cameras mounted on high poles sway in the wind; clouds travel across the sky; leaves flutter on trees; small animals scurry; and the sun goes from light to dark daily. “The existing solutions were doing a good job for indoor applications,” Romanowich said, “but were not really built to tackle the outdoor difficulties.”

Romanowich understood that, at its most fundamental level, the successful deployment of video analytics outdoors had to begin with a foundation of quality imaging. This would be possible only with a new kind of “intelligent” camera, one that brought a tremendous amount of image processing to the edge. Romanowich envisioned a device that would integrate the “eye” (the camera) with the “brain” (a supercomputer with many processors) to remove the extraneous movement of the outdoors and deliver accurate detection. The engineering challenge was the equivalent of squeezing many servers into a camera-size enclosure productized to survive the outdoor elements, while decreasing the power consumption from more than 1500 watts down to 15 watts.

It was a daunting undertaking, one that would require building a team with a unique combination of imaging physics and computing innovation.

The Early Days of SightLogix
In addition to Romanowich, there were three key people involved in SightLogix early on. Chairman James Hahn was tapped for his experience helping begin a company that ultimately grew to five international divisions and a successful IPO. Leading the engineering team was Danny Chin, who was Romanowich's own boss back in 1994, and who has 28 patents in video processing. Chin had previously designed the most powerful video-on-demand computer ever built, with more than 8,000 processors. Eric Schwab, an AT&T Bell Labs mechanical engineer, was tapped to solve the challenge of designing a product that would endure the outdoors. “They were all very smart, principled people with whom I share tremendous chemistry, so we built the company on a strong foundation to scale,” Romanowich said.

Location was important, too, and SightLogix chose New Jersey's “Video Valley” as its headquarters. The company began on the Princeton University campus and became the youngest of several major video companies nearby, including Sarnoff Labs (RCA Laboratories), Panasonic, Samsung, Intel, Siemens and NEC. Thousands of patents in video engineering have come out of this area of New Jersey, where color TV, LCD displays and CMOS technology were all invented.

Technically, what SightLogix was seeking to create was highly complex. The problem was so large and the solution so complicated that the building blocks the team needed – the tools to build a multiprocessor camera – weren't even available. “We had to literally start at the beginning and build it ourselves,” Romanowich said.

Fundraising was also an early challenge. The long development cycle for such a sophisticated product required patient investors. SightLogix had to communicate the value of the company's vision in order to raise capital long before it would ship its first product. Market research and planning were also a huge effort.

Focus On a Big Vision
SightLogix's outdoor video analytic camera systems are now being used all over the world, from the Canadian arctic to the Middle East. But success hasn't changed the company's fundamental values established from the beginning.

“I knew early on that it was important to focus on a big vision,” Romanowich said. “I remember looking out the window of a plane and thinking ‘It's a huge world. Look at all that infrastructure. We need solutions to make everything down there safe and secure.'”
Using market research has enabled SightLogix to identify the broader needs of the market rather than focusing on a single topic or feature. Romanowich also emphasizes the need to hire the best people and build relationships based on trust.

“After the market and the people,” Romanowich said, “it's all about navigating through innovation and strategy, but always staying focused on the big picture, the big objectives: How are you going to make the world safer?”

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Security Today.

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