Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Importance of Security Camera Resolution

Luke Latham, CEO, GuardRex Corporation

The topic of camera resolution is probably an abstract subject when you first approach security cameras for your first security system, but it should be one of your important considerations. The detail captured in the images and video provided by the camera can make or break security investigations and court cases following incidents where positive identification is required. In this post, I want to show you what resolution means for security clarity and detail … ultimately identification.

I can demonstrate the problem of low resolution captures with the example below. These are pictures of Doug Cooper, owner of the 7 L Livestock Company in Casper, Wyoming from realranchers.com. The original image is shown at the top. In Image A, I have cropped and enlarged Mr. Cooper from an image captured at a resolution of 2900 x 1933. The image on the right (Image B) is the same area of the original image but starting with a resolution of 725 x 483, one quarter the resolution of Image A. It’s easy to see that the high resolution image provides much better detail.

Doug Cooper, owner of the 7 L Livestock Company, standing in front of one of his oil wells
Original image of Doug Cooper used for the comparison of high and low resolution enlargements
Photo credit: Doug Cooper, owner of the 7 L Livestock Company, at realranchers.com
Doug Cooper headshot
Image A
Doug Cooper, enlarged and cropped image showing clarity and detail of his face taken from a high resolution image
Doug Cooper headshot
Image B
Doug Cooper, enlarged and cropped image showing low clarity and minimal detail of his face taken from a low resolution image

In a security investigation, Image A will be a greater asset to law enforcement in identifying and apprehending the individual. In a court case, a jury might be convinced that the defendant was the person stealing your stroker rods based on the quality of Image A. Of course, Mr. Cooper standing in front of his own pump jack isn’t a suspect here!

When shopping for security cameras, make camera resolution one of the factors you consider. Generally, the greater the resolution the better. This is offset by an important tradeoff: The higher the resolution, the greater the bandwidth required to move images and video over the Internet or over a network. Storage requirements will be higher for the larger high resolution images. The high resolution version of the original image comes in at a hefty 1.3MB, while the smaller low resolution image comes in at a mere 142KB, 11% the size of the high resolution image.

There are no easy rules of thumb for these considerations: Just keep in mind as you choose your cameras that a low resolution choice could hurt you later when the image quality counts. This is especially true when camera coverage must take in a deep field of view. In these cases, objects farther away will be small in the frame (as I show in the Doug Cooper original above) but can be resolved with greater detail when a high resolution image is taken.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Better Security Mousetrap with Automated Intruder Detection

Luke Latham, CEO, GuardRex Corporation

When you think about active location security, what comes to mind? You probably think that there must be security guards on duty 24/7/365 patrolling the location and watching live security camera feeds to detect intruders. Human-based systems work well enough when properly implemented and managed but not without significant drawbacks: Guards are expensive. They make mistakes. They can be tricked. They even call in sick. Rarely, they even steal or accept bribes to look the other way when theft occurs … allowing the very activity to occur that you were attempting to prevent in the first place. Well, they’re people, so we accept these shortcomings.

Automated security technology can greatly enhance or even eliminate traditional human-based security in most cases, result in better overall security for a location, and cost owners and operators a fraction of the expense of completely human-based guard systems. Many security industry professionals recommend organizations upgrade their security to take advantage of the new technology.

What are we talking about when it comes to replacing human security guards? Let’s review the functions of the traditional security guard so that we can determine what our automated system must replace. Human guards principally accomplish three tasks when it comes to preventing theft and vandalism: (1) detect intruders, (2) respond to intruders, and (3) deter intruders. An automated system designed to enhance or replace guards must perform these tasks and reduce the cost-benefit ratio in order to justify its adoption.

Image showing a computer-drawn rectangle around a person standing in front of an oil well Our system must be able to “see” intruders. Actually, computers are quite capable of detecting people and objects when they are programmed to do so. Algorithms that perform this function have been around for over a decade, and improved software techniques for analyzing images for objects and people are constantly realized. In most security situations, what we need is to perceive people. We have a security image taken by a security camera to analyze. The image is usually covers some field of view at a location, like a hallway or doorway, a parking lot, or a field. We need the system to search our image for objects that look like people; actually, we’re looking for pedestrians. Fortunately, there are several good algorithms available for performing this task.

We need the system to respond when an intruder is detected. Some of the methods systems use to communicate with owners and operators are by live A hand holding a cell phone showing an automated system alert messageheads-up displays (i.e., computer screens with live feeds and alerts), E-mail messages, cell phone text messages, and even voice phone calls. Yes! The system can call you on the phone and tell you in a human voice that an intruder has been detected. Responses can also include a preemptive threat to the intruder: Sirens can be activated, lights can be turned on, loudspeakers can warn the intruder that “we see you and we’re on the way to get you,” and even dogs can be released from holding pens. Consult your attorney on that last one though!

Security cameraFinally, a security system must be able to deter intruders in the first place, just as having security guards walking around at a location ensures. This is accomplished with the obvious presence of security cameras, siren bullhorns, and signage. When thieves know that a fully automated system is in place, they also know that the system won’t fall asleep, can’t be bribed, isn’t going to be fooled by “I was sent here by the company to do such-and-such,” and can probably see in the dark and detect their presence with a much finer resolution than Ted the security guard ever could.

In most cases, automated detection systems can enhance or even replace the human-based security system. Costs of such systems are falling rapidly, so there is no reason not to employ this great technology to mitigate security risk.