As the built environment across cities, and countries is upgraded to include more technology to collect data about all aspects of an urban environment – from the flow of traffic to weather, from air quality to noise pollution and is being used to proactively manage the liveability aspect, network cameras are now more than just the eyes that are the initial data gathering points. Network cameras at their most basic functionality allow for increasing efficiencies in smart buildings such as reducing energy consumption through occupant monitoring and streamline processes.
However, when deployed at scale across urban infrastructure they are the starting point for risk assessment systems – be it infrastructural, human-induced, or environmental. Network cameras backed by end-to-end surveillance technology which integrates sound-detection equipment, loudspeakers, sensors, and access control technology that can be operated via existing 4G telecommunications networks form the basic pillars of surveillance and security in a smart built environment.
While this ‘smart’ system feeds and processes data on a continuous basis, sustainability as a factor is being embedded into its operations through efficient server systems, and building hardware that has a long-shelf life.
We spoke to Ettiene van der Watt, Regional Director of Middle East & Africa at Axis Communications at Intersec Expo 2023.
Cameras in Smart Cities
Watt explains that smart camera networks were initially deployed to monitor traffic and people movement in heavily-used areas for three purposes – normal identification, incident management, and a post-event analysis. However, these systems have new layers which allow for real-time identification and tracking. He says that it has been possible for some time to conduct license plate recognition directly on the camera. This allows security personnel to ensure that high-security zones are not breached by vehicles that are not supposed to be there. This is supported by additional data that is also tracking the licence plate in other places in the environment, thus allowing for faster response times and actionable decisions.
From providing visual data to incorporating audio information, network cameras are allowing for smart management of facilities. Watt says that cameras with built-in noise detection technology helps in noise analysis, aggression analysis, facial recognition, as well as gender identification. He cites the example of a public space such as a park being used by parents and its monitoring by municipal authorities to understand if certain civic initiatives are bearing fruit. Watt says, “Because let's say for example, I'm very focused on empowering certain parts of my local presence that I want to know do they use my facility, do I have moms coming to the park or do I just have dads coming to the park? Cameras can help you with that analysis.” Another real-world example he provides is understanding usage in a smart building. “Let's say for example, you're going to a smart building. How long does it take people to go from when they've checked in to the first meeting, when they're driving?” He says such analysis allows for efficient targeting and management of facilities across entire cities which is why Axis Communications networks are used extensively by various public departments across the UAE.
While camera technology has evolved rapidly over the past decade and hence can be deployed for a variety of traffic monitoring situations – from retail to transport, its usage as a weather monitoring tool is more recent. This of course improves and enhances their ability to support safety and operational efficiency use cases in addition to security. The opportunity now exists to combine the data created by surveillance cameras with that from other sensors – monitoring temperature, noise, air and water quality, vibration, weather, and more – creating an advanced sensory network allowing data-driven decisions.
Watt says that marrying a camera’s traditional use with sensors allows a camera to become a modern weather-wane. With climate change causing a rise in sudden weather conditions such as flash floods or cloud bursts, network cameras can act as early warning systems for city authorities. He says, “It becomes a big enablement if we look at weather conditions and are notified of a change in pressure or in humidity. The way that I see this is that an entire city starts to react to what I detected out from the outskirts of the city. This means that you are able to send out warnings ahead of time, activate a lot of devices in city, for example, the speed limits to go lower, notification boards are able to warn people and traffic lights can be adjusted and so on.”
With big data, comes data security. Watt says that Axis Communications prides itself for its secure networks. He explains that one of the first ways that their network cameras are secured is through a lack of a back door. Axis then follows this up with ensuring systems are secure through the latest security patch across client networks. These security updates are only deployed after going through cybersecurity stress tests as well as third-party pen tests. He says that Axis actually rewards external engineers who find design or security flaws to ensure that the platform is free of vulnerabilities.
Axis Communication also undertakes on the job training for its clients to reduce human-induced vulnerabilities. Watt explains, “Emerging markets see a lot of movement of people and skills migrate and ship around constantly. So you can work with two or three organizations and suddenly they have hired new people, they have expanded and a lot of the people that they have are moved to different departments. So education is invited. What does it take to be cybersecure, what policies that they should adhere to constantly, and the considerations they should have, how they should purchase, how they should patch and so forth.”
Can network cameras be made sustainable? Yes, says Ettiene van der Watt. He says that as a manufacturer they adhere to strict sustainability policies. “An example of our commitment to sustainability is how we think about it from the design phase. We start with two elements – when you start designing a product you have to think about cyber-security and you have to think about sustainability. This is then followed up with looking at the heat emissions on our devices, storage requirements, and of course the processing of the big data done by our servers.” Watt guarantees that due to their focus and spend on creating technology that uses less processing and less storage, Axis Communications currently has the most efficient storage systems in the IoT industry.
He explains the other part of design consideration that addresses sustainability is the MTBF (mean time before failure). He says that Axis is the choice of network cameras for many governments for monitoring of the built environment and hence their design addresses the element of living with these devices – from storage to operational lifecycle. He says their networks are designed to have long life cycles to reduce sourcing, disposing of old equipment and overall wastage.
Axis Communications is among the market leaders for network videos and it launched its latest offering AXIS P1468-XLE Explosion-Protected Bullet Camera, is the world’s first explosion-protected camera specifically designed for Zone and Division 2 hazardous locations. Its features include a robust, impact- and weather-resistant fixed camera which delivers image quality in 4K resolution under any light conditions, is compact and lightweight in design, and the company says the camera is as easy to install as a standard camera.