Sequent Takes Visual Surveillance To New Level

By Lance Ulanoff  |  Posted 2003-02-06 Print this article Print

What do you get when you cross a camera, black-box data recorder, wireless connectivity and GPS, with a backend database? Sequent Technologies would suggest it's a new take on the $2.5 billion-dollar surveillance market.

We live under the watchful eyes of countless video cameras on street corners, in stores, in our offices, in police cars, and elsewhere. Most of the devices capture only images, and virtually all of them are hard wired to central offices where the video is either discarded or recorded to tape.

California-based start-up Sequent Technologies is taking visual surveillance a step further. The company has taken what is essentially an airplane flight recorder and added a GPS, wireless connectivity, and metadata capabilities, hoping to raise visual surveillance to a database-driven art form.

Marketed as the Ranger 350i, the black box accepts standard form-factor 802.11a, b and g cards. It can communicate with wireless cameras and microphones as well as with a central server so, for example, the device can download data from auxiliary surveillance devices and upload the info to the server. The box can also transmit over standard Ethernet cables. Rangers two 80GB hard drives capture NTSC, VHS-quality video (at 30 frames per second) and augment that with real-time location meta-information from the built-in GPS. The ranger has a variety of ports that allow it to collect environmental and situational data (air temperature, car speed, and so on) from external devices.

Recording a persons vital signs during triage in an ambulance or tracking the speeds of a police car and suspects vehicle in a chase are some possible deployment scenarios. Company officials say that in 15 minutes (the average time for a change of work shifts) up to 10GB of this information can stream back to the central server with the MPEG4 video and audio when the Ranger is within 300 feet of the server. Sequents Radius database software then processes that data. The Radius database is accessible via most Web browsers, and the video is compatible with QuickTime and Microsoft Windows Media Player.

The Ranger 350i can work as a wired or wireless device. A wireless camcorder can, for example, transmit video and audio to the unit in a police cruiser, letting an officer quickly collect video clips of speeding vehicles on a particular day, or else gather clips from multiple video cameras and use the information about location to determine places that are hot spots for speeding.

The data is not encrypted, however, until written to the Rangers hard drive, but remains encrypted during transmission to the central server. To speed transmission, users can reduce the frame rate from the native 30fps to 10fps. The Ranger can also transmit video at speeds of up to 15fps to handheld devices running on 3G and 5G cellular networks.

For now, theres a 10-second lag between the image capture and transmission by the Ranger—a potential issue for real-time surveillance. Future releases of the hardware should, say Sequent officials, eliminate the lag.

The $5,000 base Sequent package includes the Ranger 350i box, a video-capture card, video-capture software and a compression application that uses patented algorithms. You have to add your own remote-control tilt-and-pan cameras and back-end data storage systems. You also need either a systems integrator or VAR to configure Sequents Radius database application to capture the required data. Sequent officials believe the development of industry-specific templates should simplify this process.

Sequent hopes to see this system implemented in locations from schools to manufacturing plants and even in FedEx trucks. Still, the companys primary focus will be on military, homeland security, and police department needs. Sequent says there are over 500,000 police cars in the US alone, representing a $2.5 billion market. The company, though, still needs to get the judicial system behind its blend of video and meta-information so that the metadata carries as much weight as the visual data with which its blended. The National Institute of Justice in Washington, DC has reviewed the system and endorsed the specification that Sequent provides, but thats not a rubber-stamp approval of data from the system for use in courtrooms.

The company is also planning a ruggedized wearable version, the Rover 650. It will be able to handle gravitational forces of up to 60 Gs, water immersion, and temperatures ranging from 60 degrees below zero to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. That unit, when it ships later this year, will run roughly $7,000.

Lance Ulanoff is Editor in Chief and VP of Content for PC Magazine Network, and brings with him over 20 years journalism experience, the last 16 of which he has spent in the computer technology publishing industry.

He began his career as a weekly newspaper reporter before joining a national trade publication, traveling the country covering product distribution and data processing issues. In 1991 he joined PC Magazine where he spent five years writing and managing feature stories and reviews, covering a wide range of topics, including books and diverse technologies such as graphics hardware and software, office applications, operating systems and, tech news. He left as a senior associate editor in 1996 to enter the online arena as online editor at HomePC magazine, a popular consumer computing publication. While there, Ulanoff launched, and and wrote about Web sites and Web-site building.

In 1998 he joined Windows Magazine as the senior editor for online, spearheading the popular magazine's Web site, which drew some 6 million page views per month. He also wrote numerous product reviews and features covering all aspects of the computing world. During his tenure, won the Computer Press Association's prestigious runner-up prize for Best Overall Website.

In August 1999, Ulanoff briefly left publishing to join as producer for the Computing and Consumer Electronics channels and then was promoted to the site's senior director for content. He returned to PC Magazine in November 2000 and relaunched in July 2001. The new was named runner-up for Best Web Sites at the American Business Media's Annual Neal Awards in March 2002 and won a Best Web Site Award from the ASBPE in 2004. Under his direction, regularly generated more than 25 million page views a month and reached nearly 5 million monthly unique visitors in 2005.

For the last year and a half, Ulanoff has served as Editor, Reviews, PC Magazine. In that role he has overseen all product and review coverage for PC Magazine and, as well as managed PC Labs. He also writes a popular weekly technology column for and his column also appears in PC Magazine.

Recognized as an expert in the technology arena, Lance makes frequent appearances on local, national and international news programs including New York's Eyewitness News, NewsChannel 4, CNN, CNN HN, CNBC, MSNBC, Good Morning America Weekend Edition, and BBC, as well as being a regular guest on FoxNews' Studio B with Shepard Smith. He has also offered commentary on National Public Radio and been interviewed by radio stations around the country. Lance has been an invited guest speaker at numerous technology conferences including Digital Life, RoboBusiness, RoboNexus, Business Foresight and Digital Media Wire's Games and Mobile Forum.

Lance also serves as co-host of PC Magazine's weekly podcast, PCMag Radio.


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