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.