Driving New Opportunities
The advantages of greater processing power at the edge and greater scalability in the cloud
- By Robert Muehlbauer
- Oct 06, 2020
When network video
cameras first came
on the market, they
were chiefly bare
bones video streaming
devices. Most of the intelligence and
processing for the system was housed in
the core server farm of the video management
system. Within a few years, however,
companies were manufacturing cameras
with enough CPU power to perform
simple analytics at the edge. As computing
power continued to increase, so did the
opportunity for companies to embed ever
more sophisticated analytics in-camera.
There were several benefits that made
edge-based analytics appealing:
Lower bandwidth consumption. Instead
of streaming every frame of raw video to
the server for analysis, the camera could
pre-process the images and just send the
Lower storage requirements. With only
content-rich video being sent to the server,
there would be less footage to archive in the
Lower operating costs. Processing video
in-camera was less expensive than monopolizing
CPU cycles on the server.
The earliest algorithms brought into the
camera were based on pixel changes in the
field of view. When the changes reached a
certain threshold, the analytics would conclude
that motion had been detected and
would send the video to the server. Building
on that pixel threshold concept, other
in-camera analytics like camera tampering
and crossline detection soon followed.
HOW MACHINE LEARNING IS
IMPACTING ADVANCES IN VIDEO
Fast forward to 2020. Manufacturers
are building cameras embedded with deep
learning processing units (DLPUs), enabling
software developers to integrate arti-
ficial intelligence (AI) into their video analytics
algorithms. This has raised new hopes
that machine learning and deep learning
will be the silver bullet that the security industry
has long been promising. Given the
variabilities of surveillance environments,
however, fulfilling that promise still has a
way to go. That is because machine learning
can consume an enormous amount of
resources before a consistently accurate result
can be achieved.
We’ll use the example of facial recognition.
If you wanted to create the application
using AI, you would need an iterative
process to train the program to classify an
image as a face. That would mean collecting
and labeling thousands of images of
facing and feeding them into the program,
then testing the application after each cycle
of input until you determined that the program
had learned “enough” about what
characteristics comprise a face. At that
point, the trained model would become
the finished program. But after that, the AI
wouldn’t learn anything new.
Now consider the challenges of facial
recognition from a surveillance camera perspective.
Not only do you have to train the
program to recognize a full-frontal image,
but images captured from multiple angles, images in shadow and bright sunlight and variable weather conditions,
images with facial hair, hats, glasses, tattoos and other distinguishing
differences. And if the application comes across a novel
image for which it has no data points it can reference it could fail
to recognize the image as a face.
That’s not to say significant strides have been made since the
early days of video analytics. Take, for example, video motion
detection. We’ve come a long way from simply detecting pixelchanges
in the scene. Today’s motion detection analytics have been
designed to recognize patterns. They’re able to filter out non-essential
data like shadows, passing objects like cars and branches, the
bloom from a headlight, even birds – which leads to significantly
fewer false positive alerts.
Other video analytics such as license plate recognition and object
classification (like type of car, color, make and model), have
also grown in sophistication over the years with the ability to accurately
discern and transmit essential data and ignore anything
irrelevant to the specific task at hand.
HOW CLOUD COMPUTING EXPANDS POSSIBILITIES
The video analytics industry has burgeoned into a massive ecosystem
of problem-solving tools. But to achieve more predictive
intelligence, many of these algorithms rely on larger datasets of information
and greater processing power to reach an acceptable level
of accuracy. This has led many businesses to realize that computing
power and datasets at the edge are the core and insufficient to the
task. So, they’re turning to a third option for their analytics operations:
cloud computing. Using a cloud computing service offers
certain advantages that neither the edge nor the core can provide:
Great scalability. Going to a cloud computing model offers almost
unlimited processing power and gives users access to large
data sets and images to train video analytics algorithms to targeted
Great fiexibility. Cloud computing service is an elastic solution.
Businesses only use provider resources on an as needed basis.
Lower upfront investment. Businesses don’t have to purchase,
maintain and update local server resources, which makes it possible
for companies with fewer financial means to access virtually
unlimited advanced hardware and software resources without a
huge capital investment. They can employ video analytics as a service
and allocate the expense to their operating budget.
THE MOVE FROM PROPRIETARY TO OPEN
STANDARDS DEVELOPMENT TOOLS
In addition to ever greater accuracy, one of the reasons that
video analytics are gaining traction is that many of the newer
algorithms are hardware agnostic. In the beginning, manufacturers
only allowed analytics created by their own in-house software
development team to be embedded on their cameras. As the
demand for customized solutions grew, manufacturers gradually
began opening their products to third-party developers. But,
there was a caveat. For the applications to run on those cameras,
these outside developers had to use the manufacturer’s own proprietary
application development tools and platform. With few
exceptions, this generally constrained an application’s usefulness
to a single manufacturer’s product line.
With the rise in the Internet of Things and best-of-breed, mixedvendor
ecosystems, this position was no longer sustainable as it was
limiting users’ ability to grow their systems. Today there’s a big push
for open source development tools based on industry standard application
programming interfaces. The goal would be to create a
common development framework that would support deploying
the video analytic to multiple tiers. In other words, any analytics
software written within this framework would be interoperable with
edge devices, on-premise servers, or cloud computing farms.
The other rationale for taking this open source approach would
be give developers access to a vast library of proven computer vision
and machine learning software on which to build their source
code. This would dramatically speed up software development and
drive innovation, which would increase the value of all manufacturers’
TRANSITIONING FROM VIDEO ANALYTICS FROM
SECURITY TO BUSINESS OPERATIONS
Many of the video analytics developed for surveillance and
security have, over time, found their way into business operations,
especially retail and healthcare. For instance, loitering analytics
are being used in stores to detect possible shoplifting or a customer
needing help from service staff. In fact, some retailers are tying
the video analytics into intelligent audio systems to trigger a message
to the customer that assistance is on the way. This has proven
to be a great deterrent against theft and lost sales opportunities.
In healthcare, some hospitals are using crossline detection
analytics to trigger alerts when patients wandering or try getting
out of bed without assistance. Some hospitals are augmenting
their video analytics with audio analytics (such as aggression and
gunshot detection) and public address systems to reduce workplace
As result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many establishments
are finding novel ways to employ their video analytics. Facial recognition
software is being modified to detect whether people are
wearing masks to ensure compliance with health and safety protocols.
Occupancy analytics are deployed to alert management
when the designated capacity is reached by current municipal
codes. And many more innovations are in the pipeline.
CREATING A MULTI-TIERED VIDEO ANALYTICS SOLUTION
As you can see, video analytics has come a long way since simple
pixel change detection. Software developers are designing them
as multi-tiered solutions that can run at the edge, in the core and
up in the cloud, giving users the flexibility to deploy and manage
their analytics wherever they are best suited and most economical.
They are using open sourced tools to construct these applications
to be hardware agnostic, giving users the freedom to choose best of
breed components for their installations.
Going forward, application developers will continue striving for
analytics able to detect and evaluate ever more subtle nuances in
behavior and the environment. This goal will be achieved by building
on the legacy of their predecessors and harnessing the power of
AI and machine learning. This will lead to more
accurate and predictive performances that can
help customers meet the daily challenges they
face in their security and business operations.
This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Security Today.