Extraordinary Value

Extraordinary Value

Artificial intelligence is the talk of the town in most industries

Every technology industry is talking about the benefits of Artificial Intelligence. More than a buzzword, AI is hyped as a panacea, while at the same time, it is often misunderstood by those who might benefit from it the most.

AI may mean different things to different people, there are plenty of aspects that apply to all disciplines. The ability for a machine to “learn” from data it is presented is at the core of all AI use cases. The term “machine learning” derives from that most basic idea. Deep Learning, a subset of machine learning, and is based on neural networks, and is frequently used to analyze and compare image data. The challenge is how to use these AI disciplines effectively to better protect people and assets. Beyond security, it’s time to look at how data from these cameras can be used to positively impact operations and sales for an organization.

CHANGING HOW WE THINK ABOUT SECURITY CAMERAS

Traditional digital cameras do not identify objects they capture. They just blindly record pixels to a disk. With analytics, if the camera sensor detects movement in those pixels, it can place a bookmark in the recording or send an alert. Anyone who has tried to use traditional motion analytics, although they can be useful, will know they are also very prone to false positives. Depending on the installation, a motion event is triggered by something as mundane as a shadow from a passing cloud. For this reason, many security professionals shied away from using analytics in all but the most controlled circumstances or as a guide to where an event “might” have happened.

Using deep learning algorithms, we can effectively teach a camera sensor to identify objects and detect unique characteristics about them. It is a sophisticated process to train a machine learning algorithm and it can require hundreds of thousands of images to make it accurate. The algorithms must be told when it gets things wrong, as well. It is also important to remember that what differentiates today’s technology from true AI is that machine learning and deep learning algorithms cannot learn new things by themselves.

Current AI-based cameras can reliably identify objects such as a car, truck, bicycle, license plate or a person in an image. They can also discern the unique attributes of these objects, such as color or whether a license plate or face is present. Thanks to advances in deep learning, these devices have evolved from capturing images to becoming highly accurate data gathering tools. They are network connected, and are truly part of the broader world of IoT devices that surround us. With their myriad new potential to protect and inform, it’s time to think differently with regards to the value these devices can bring to an organization.

SECURITY BENEFITS OF AI CAMERAS

The most common application for AI-powered cameras today is to empower the traditional motion analytics that we are familiar with, such as loitering, intruder detection or entering/exiting an area. AI becomes a powerhouse when used to eliminate false positives from shadows, foliage or animals, by only triggering the analytics when the correct type of object is detected, such as a person or vehicle. The bar is raised further when a deeply integrated AI solution allows additional descriptive metadata search parameters to speed forensic investigations, such as searching for clothing color, or if the subject had a bag, glasses or hat.

AI presents a perfect solution to compensate for unmanned environments or those with limited staffing, or the loss of vigilance after looking at a screen too long. AI can help us not only watch continuously, but also feed systems that are able to sort, organize and categorize massive amounts of data in a way that human operators cannot. It can do so far more reliably than traditional video analytics ever did.

When it comes to protecting assets and people, real-time alerts generated by a video management system (VMS) enable security teams to be more proactive rather than reactive as events unfold in real time. Because AI-powered analytics eliminate false alarms, they can more accurately determine incidents that require further investigation by operators. Thanks to the extra data AI-based cameras can capture, analytic rules can be enhanced with more sophisticated logic and customization for precisely what an end user requires. For example, we can tell a camera to ignore all cars, but to alert us when a person comes to the door. AI can help us count objects like people or cars more precisely than ever. This includes the ability to count objects accurately even when they partly “occlude” or pass in front of each other. This is key since it allows use cases like people counting from more sensible camera view angles. This is far superior to conventional people counting techniques, which require a top-down view to avoid occlusion, and which give a less useful camera view when you want to identify faces as well.

POST-EVENT FORENSIC SEARCH

When it comes to post-event forensic searches, AI-based cameras are in a league of their own. Additional descriptive metadata about objects is captured within each frame. Because the metadata is small, it adds very little to the overall bandwidth and storage requirements.

That metadata, which might include descriptive characteristics of objects like the color of a person’s shirt or pants or their approximate age and gender, enables a VMS operator to quickly search through video to find a particular object or person. A search that might have taken security staff hours or days to complete now takes only seconds when the search includes additional metadata provided by an AI camera.

GOING BEYOND SECURITY

Although people counting, heat maps and queue management analytics have existed for some time, they too have been subject to the inherent inaccuracies of pixel-based motion detection. Conversely, AI-based object detection delivers profoundly accurate data and metrics for operations, sales and marketing teams looking for insight on everything from retail store performance to ensuring process efficiency and operational compliance.

As a result, these cameras have become an indispensable tool for business operations. Depending on the business, the value proposition for such data can be a game-changer worth many times the cost of the system.

For customers with more sophisticated data analysis needs, camera metadata is accessed and combined with other data. It is processed by other platforms for sophisticated visualization and data mining. This allows technology partners to access the aggregated data into their own charts, graphs and exception reports powered by specialized software they may already be using. There are familiar use cases spanning multiple industries that require linking data from access control, intrusion, point of sale systems, staffing data, schedule data, weather data and many other data sources. The potential for this unified data to create comprehensive business solutions is substantial.

Since video cameras are already well accepted and commonplace, the opportunities for them to evolve into unobtrusive, important data gathering tools for business and operations intelligence will only continue to grow. Operations and marketing departments may also find common ground when budgeting for a system that can serve the needs of both departments.

BENEFITS OF AI ON THE EDGE

AI-based analytics can run on the edge or in a server, but there are significant aspects to each method of deployment that should be considered. With AI on the edge, valuable events and other metadata generated at the camera must be gathered from many endpoints and that data must be aggregated together to enable clear visualization of the trends and anomalies identified. This can be done on a lightweight local server that also runs the VMS. Running AI analytics at the camera significantly reduces the overall cost of the equivalent server resources required to run AI-based analytics since edge-based analytics run before video is compressed and streamed.

Running AI on a server requires that the video stream be first decoded which requires CPU/GPU resources that can scale dramatically as stream count increases. While the power of a server far outweighs what a camera can provide, there is a point of diminishing returns when electing to do everything on a server for all, but the most demanding processing. For that reason, a hybrid approach, in which AI analytics are performed on the edge and the lightweight data results are sent to an inexpensive server or workstation for aggregation and display, will remain a popular choice for some time.

This article originally appeared in the September / October 2021 issue of Security Today.

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