Thermal Cameras are Hot

Thermal Cameras are Hot

Networked solutions have been filling critical need for almost a decade

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 Camera Capabilities?

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 is lost.
  • 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 resolution.

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 video quality.

Edge-preserving noise filter and enhanced noise reduction. This filter helps the thermal image remain sharp by removing blur and ghost effects.

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 readily identifiable.

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 and Identification

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.


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