Thermal Cameras are Hot
Networked solutions have been filling critical need for almost a decade
- By Anthony Incorvati
- Jul 01, 2017
Network thermal cameras were first introduced to the
security market in 2010 filling a critical detection gap
in network video systems. Less sensitive to problematic
lighting conditions than visible light cameras, they
excelled at detecting people, objects and incident under
adverse conditions such as complete darkness, smoke, haze, dust,
light fog and even bright sunlight. At the same time they provided all
the benefits that come along with being native IP network devices.
Strategic Applications for
Network Thermal Cameras
In the years since their introduction, network thermal cameras have
gained widespread adoption as a strategic component of physical security
and safety systems in a range of applications.
Search and rescue. Because of a thermal camera’s superior ability
to detect humans, vehicles and animals, you can find them being used
in search and rescue operations—spotting people in the water in a
harbor, helping firemen see through smoke, even assisting police in
tracking perpetrators attempting to flee in the night.
Perimeter protection. Thermal network cameras are a cost-effective
perimeter protection tool because they can cover long distances
with few cameras and even detect people camouflaged against a background.
If someone trespasses a fence, the security manager receives
a verification image at the operations center or on a mobile device.
Because network thermal cameras support a variety of lens options,
they can cover everything from wide parking lots to long fence
lines. Their low rate of false alarms helps security management cut
costs by avoiding unnecessary responses by security staff. Conversely,
the cameras can verify alarms, confirming that a motion detection
alarm was actually triggered by a human. So security staff can act
quickly to prevent costly vandalism or other criminal acts.
Public safety. In potentially dangerous environments, such as tunnels,
railway tracks and train platforms, thermal network cameras
help prevent accidents by triggering alarms when detecting trespassers
and objects where they shouldn’t be. Early detection of people
and objects on the tracks can prevent accidents.
Process monitoring. Because heat signatures captured by thermal
cameras contain distinctive thermal information, the cameras can
serve as excellent tools to monitor processes and detect abnormal
temperature changes. For example, thermal cameras can be found
detecting heat leaks in buildings, providing early-warning signs that
self-igniting material is about to combust, even predicting transformer
and switch gear failures at power substations.
What’s New in Thermal
When network thermal cameras were first introduced, they supported
a number of useful features, such as:PoE:
- Power over Ethernet made installation easier and lost costly
because a single cable could be used to both power the camera and
transmit the video.
- Two-way audio: Two-way audio support allowed security staff to
communicate with visitors and intruders.
- On-board storage: Slots for memory cards give users the option
of storing the video in-camera as a backup in case network connectivity
- H.264 compression: Advanced compression support significantly
reduced bandwidth usage and storage needs.
- Intelligent analytics: Network thermal cameras offered motion
detection, audio detection, and attempted tampering detection.
In more recent years, adoption of open platforms and the continuously
increasing processing power of the cameras have enabled
more intelligence (analytic applications) to be pushed to the edge of
the network and reside on the camera.
Open platform applications. Building on this open platform concept,
many new thermal cameras also feature an open application
platform that allows third parties to develop and download specialized
applications to improve security. These plug-in programs add
value to the camera’s core functionality and provide a way to customize
surveillance solutions to meet an end user’s unique needs.
One of the more intriguing applications developed for network
thermal cameras involves virtual fence technology. Using state-ofthe-
art discrimination algorithms, the software enables a thermal
camera to separate credible threats from noise and other unimportant
motion in a scene. The analytics are so advanced that they can
detect people and objects up to a mile away.
By integrating adjacent PTZ cameras with these thermal cameras
that have been enhanced with long-range detection capability users
can automate a much more proactive detect-track-notify solution.
Higher resolution. Users can opt for thermal camera models
with a higher 640x480 resolution or ones with a lower 384 by 288
Image stabilization. Electronic image stabilization (EIS) reduces
the effect of vibration in video providing a smoother and steadier
image even on windy days when vibrations would otherwise affect
Edge-preserving noise filter and enhanced noise reduction. This
filter helps the thermal image remain sharp by removing blur and
Dynamic histogram equalization with enhanced local contrast and
sharpening. This capability improves contrast across the entire image,
keeping noise levels low without loss of details or temperature
information. It makes the scene easier to understand because the surroundings
are more recognizable and the objects and people are more
Multiple lens choices. With lens choices from 7mm to 60mm users
can optimize detection performance to meet most requirements.
Security-specific compression algorithm. With greater in-camera
processing capacity, thermal cameras can do much of the video
processing at the edge. Combined with advanced algorithms specifically
designed for security applications, only the portion of the video
containing useful information (areas of the scene that have changed
from frame to frame) are transmitted to the server. This reduces both
bandwidth consumption and video storage requirements.
Moving Into the Realm of Recognition
While thermal cameras are outstanding at detection, they also work
really well for recognition. With today’s enhanced resolution and visual
clarity, it’s still easy to determine that there is a person moving
between cars rather than an animal or a plastic bag. Oftentimes,
thermal cameras deliver this information long before a visual camera
has even detected movement.
Though thermal cameras can’t as yet provide the level of identification
offered by visual cameras (colors, facial features and other details),
the thermal images they generate do provide useful particulars.
For instance, the captured heat signature can help security personnel
distinguish an object and its characteristics—such as a person holding
a crowbar. And it is this kind of situational awareness that can be
critical to first responders.
A Versatile Addition to a
Host of Surveillance Solutions
Like most technologies, network thermal cameras are continuing to
improve in performance and sophistication. Initially designed as a
tool for military applications, today thermal network cameras are
demonstrating their versatility in an endless variety of industrial,
commercial and private surveillance applications.
In physical security conversations, network cameras
continue to be a hot topic that shows no evidence
of cooling down any time soon.
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Security Today.