Friday, October 07, 2011

Mobile Surveillance Solutions Bringing About Operational Efficiency and Safety

On Aug. 23, 2010, a tourist bus in Manila, the Philippines was hijacked by a former policeman. Armed with an M-16 rifle, the hijacker began a 12-hour standoff with the police. The incident left eight tourists dead, and an official investigation report by the Philippine officials identified eight critical errors that led to the unfortunate result. One of the blunders was an ineffective rescue mission due to the lack of information inside the bus. Public transportation is vulnerable to threats and attacks. Governments around the world are investing more in transportation safety, which in turn increases demand for mobile surveillance solutions. According to research, the mobile video surveillance market will be US$1.55 billion by 2015, at a CAGR of 13.7 percent over 2008 to 2015. The potential lies in not only tightened security for drivers and passengers, but also huge gains in operational efficiency for fleet managers.

On Aug. 23, 2010, a tourist bus in Manila, the Philippines was hijacked by a former policeman. Armed with an M-16 rifle, the hijacker began a 12-hour standoff with the police. The incident left eight tourists dead, and an official investigation report by the Philippine officials identified eight critical errors that led to the unfortunate result. One of the blunders was an ineffective rescue mission due to the lack of information inside the bus.

Public transportation is vulnerable to threats and attacks. Governments around the world are investing more in transportation safety, which in turn increases demand for mobile surveillance solutions. According to research, the mobile video surveillance market will be US$1.55 billion by 2015, at a CAGR of 13.7 percent over 2008 to 2015. The potential lies in not only tightened security for drivers and passengers, but also huge gains in operational efficiency for fleet managers.

Mobile surveillance solutions have been gaining traction due to increased concerns over terrorist attacks and criminal activities that threaten passenger and fleet safety. There are also clear financial benefits for installing mobile solutions. “The biggest benefits for fleet managers revolve around litigation mitigation, lowered insurance costs, improved driver behavior and safer driving, reduced fuel consumption via monitoring idling times, improved productivity via route optimization, and proactive vehicle maintenance via real-time alerts,” said Chalon Dilber, Director of Marketing and Product Management for Safety Vision.

Litigation is always a concern for fleet managers, and having evidence readily available reduces the time and cost required for each case. “The main financial incentive is reduction of liability as there is video evidence to support or deny a claim brought about by a customer or employee,” said Peter Simmons, Director of Marketing for Seon Design. “This is initially difficult to quantify if you have no experience with a lawsuit of this nature. However, one avoided lawsuit can easily pay for the system installed in one or more vehicles.”

Furthermore, how the driver operates the vehicle is directly associated with safety, customer satisfaction and fuel consumption. Identifying and correcting bad driving habits are made possible through data collection and analysis. “Depending on the configuration of the video system, the camera views can be used for driver training and driver behavior modification,” Simmons said. “The GPS and ‘G sensor' data can be analyzed to see if the vehicle was driven on the proper route and that there was no heavy acceleration or deceleration which would impact passenger safety as well as fuel usage.”

With IP-based technologies and 3-G wireless transmission, fleet managers have greater oversight over drivers and vehicles , comparedto traditional tracking systems, said Jay Biring, New Business Manager for Exeros Technologies. “In addition to location, speed, direction of travel and four sensors around the vehicle, a video-tracking system can also offer live video and audio. In effect, the operator is there in real time rather that just viewing an updated position marker, as is the case with traditional systems.”

Setting Priorities
Mobile solutions share the same basic principles with fixed security systems, but there are unique elements that must be considered for different applications. Take police vehicles. HD is the priority, said James Wang, Overseas Product Manager at Dahua Technology.

“Public buses, on the other hand, should be easy to maintain, while taxis value cost-effectiveness and rail applications demand high stability.” The environment and nature of an application create specific demands on equipment. “DVRs for rail and bus applications, for example, differ mainly in anti-vibration mechanisms and power supplies,” Wang said.

“Rail has stricter guidelines on safety, temperature range and maintenance; magnetic inference must be dealt with properly. The high running speed also places greater demands on wireless transmission.”

Another difference between buses and rail is the connectivity of the system to other systems on the vehicle. “The vast majority of bus systems are analog-based with connections to local DVRs. Most bus-based video systems connect to some other peripherals such as GPS, passenger counting and fare box,” Simmons said. “Train-based systems can connect to other video systems on the adjacent carriages, to form a large video network on a single train.”

To avoid headaches, due diligence should be made in designing, deploying and maintaining the system. “The majority of the problems can be traced back to poor installation practices onboard, which are much less forgiving in a mobile environment than in a fixed security environment,” Dilber said.

“A big problem area for large deployments is improper installation and configuration of wireless networks, which are used for automation of video downloads, health checks and configuration/firmware updates. The best mitigation policies involve certified installations, proper checklists as well as extensive site surveys prior to going live.”

The core functionality of a mobile DVR is to be able to record video and audio, Biring said. “Most DVRs also have time-and-date stamps. Others may record GPS positioning and upload video via Wi-Fi at a depot. Some mobile DVRs provide live streaming over 3-G, but few of them can do it well.”

Essential features are rugged build and removable recording media for the DVR, Simmons said. “Ease of installation and the ability to plug in many signals from peripherals as well as GPS signals for location positioning are becoming basic requirements. Integration with other systems, such as passenger counting, live vehicle location and student tracking, is also becoming more essential. In addition, most systems are sold with wiring between the camera and DVR that provides power, video and audio feeds — all is accomplished in one cable.”

For end users that are not particularly familiar with security products, the wide variance in pricing may seem confusing. As with many other scenarios in life, you get what you pay for. “The major difference between low- and high-end is the clearness of the encoding, the demand of storage medium and additional functionality,” Wang said. “On the individual DVR/ NVR level, support for the latest compression algorithms, HD network cameras and reliability of storage media is the main differentiator,” Dilber added. “Also to be considered are the availability and reliability of enterprise-level central management systems, as well as the ecosystem and hardware flexibility to support third-party, nonsecurity applications.”

According to Simmons, major pricing differences can be attributed to the number of cameras supported, the type of recording media used (hard disk, solid state or flash memory), as well as the overall ruggedness, build quality and other factors similar to the design of fixed DVRs. “In addition, extra features such as support for wireless networks, the number of signal inputs and inclusion of G sensors and other peripherals can affect the price. Additional costs for VMS to manage wireless downloads of video data and other network management tools can also affect the selling price.” Low-cost mobile DVRs could mean lower reliability, said Jerry Qin, Project Manager for Mobile Products at Hikvision Digital Technologies.

“Public buses or long-range shuttles are more likely to utilize these products due to budgetary constraints. Some customers test high-end and low-cost products side by side for a short period of time, ranging from two to four weeks. Reliability issues take longer than this to emerge, and customers who do not look at long-term implications will not see the advantage of high-end products. A more appropriate trial phase would be roughly eight weeks.”

HD video is always nice to have, but fleet managers may not have the budget to cover the higher cost. While there is strong demand for HD video, the higher component costs render the end product unapproachable for many, Biring said. “Look at internal video cards — there are only a few manufacturers in the world that are producing exceptional hardware. HD requires more processing power, which in turn demands better cooling and greater voltage and current.” These create a limitation on how affordable the products can be.


While the functionality of a general-purpose DVR and a mobile DVR may be similar, it is not a case where copy and paste is the wisest decision. It is more like rewriting a novel into a movie, where different use cases create different possibilities and limitations. The main difference between a regular DVR and a mobile DVR lies in the environments in which they are meant to serve, said Dererk Dai, R&D Manager for Hi Sharp Electronics. According to Qin, five factors define an adequate mobile solution: power supply, anti-vibration mechanism, dust prevention, heat dissipation and data transmission.

As mobile DVRs can only be located on the vehicle, power supply must be drawn from the vehicle as well. “This creates an unstable supply of power. Electronics are sensitive to power surges and spikes, and equipment fails quickly if this is not handled properly,” Qin said. “In addition, mobile DVRs also act as a hub that stabilizes power for sensors, cameras and other peripherals. Some manufacturers use lower-quality power supplies to contain costs, but this inevitably shortens the life span of their products.”

Since vehicles are constantly in motion, vibration is inevitable. Constant vibration leads to mechanical failure if this is not accounted for during design. One of the factors that sets products apart is the materials used for anti-vibration mechanisms, Qin said. “While rubber may be used to lower production costs, it deteriorates over time. Generally, rubber guarantees performance in short time frames but is susceptible to heat and cold, which softens or hardens the rubber. Higher-end products use wire rope, which ensures performance regardless of external factors. However, the higher cost is passed down to the user.”

Mobile DVRs are generally installed in confined compartments. This exacerbates the problem of heat dissipation because mobile DVRs require long operation hours. “The challenge here is twofold. If you try to fit in fans to the DVR, you will inevitably leave an opening in the enclosure and make it more vulnerable to dust. Therefore, fans are not acceptable for mobile DVRs, and alternative means must be considered,” Qin said.

"Aluminum is the preferred material for enclosures as it allows heat to dissipate even when it is completely sealed. Low-cost products may use aluminum alloys instead of pure aluminum to control costs, but they will be incapable of handling dust and heat properly.”

Transmission was the weakest link for many mobile DVRs, but this has changed due to advances in wireless technologies. “Previously, innovation in mobile DVRs was slow as the limited transmission options constrained how manufacturers could add value for users. Even Wi-Fi was not as significant as some thought it would be because of its short range. The availability of 3-G networks has enabled a wide variety of new functions and use cases,” Qin said. For example, previously it was not practical to transmit data collected from the vehicle in real time, such as video, location, brake signals, speed and inertial measurements.

With the advent of 3-G networks, mobile DVRs have begun to transition to IP-based systems and HD video, Qin said. “This is more apparent with rail applications. Rail applications involve larger compartments , and security staff needs to see even small details clearly. The demand for network cameras in this space has risen dramatically in the past two years.”

Light rail/MRT is another fast adopter of IP-based technologies for high-bandwidth communications such as video and wireless and cellular networking, Dilber added. “The main driver for this has been the fixed routing of these platforms, which enables much more accurate uploading and downloading of video, audio, metadata and custom content for advertising, public address and similar non-security applications.”

Buses generally do not need network cameras, as there is less demand on image resolution and analog cameras are sufficient, Qin said. “In China, long-range shuttles are required by law to install mobile surveillance systems. Although the number of cameras is not specified by regulators, the front and rear views must be recorded at all times. Typically, public buses need four channels, while extended tourist shuttles require six and two-deck shuttles eight."

However, innovations enabled by advances in wireless technologies are uneven in different geographies, mainly due to different cost structures, Dilber said. “3-G+ pricing plans make certain high-bandwidth applications prohibitive in the U.S. and Europe, while extremely attractive in certain Asian markets.”

Wireless streaming of video over a WAN network is nice to have, but this is still cost-prohibitive in most jurisdictions, Simmons said. “Generally, wireless video management and downloading are only cost-effective using wireless LAN, such as Wi-Fi. WAN-based wireless is still too expensive for transmitting large amounts of video that is generated by a four-channel system.”

However, this will change in time as data costs continue to drop. “It may become possible to stream video back to a central server instead of storing it locally on the vehicle,” Simmons said. “We think that this is many years away, but it is definitely a trend to be watched.”

As wireless networks are spotty, it makes sense to invest more in this space to maintain reliable transmission channels. “Proper specification of robust Wi-Fi technologies that are industrial grade rather than consumer grade, coupled with proper network design and coverage at the bus yard or depot, can minimize problems,” Simmons said.

"A comprehensive site survey of the wireless environment will mitigate the majority of headaches that come with wireless systems. A site survey, combined with comprehensive checklists and small-scale proofing of the system with live vehicles before full deployment, is the key to success for the end user,” Dilber said.

Location-Based Advertising
The market for mobile DVRs is still fairly underdeveloped, and the distinction between software and hardware is not as clearly defined as it is for fixed security systems. “This is not as well-established as it is in the fixed security space, and therefore, most of the sales revenue is tied to hardware,” Simmons said.

This is an opportunity to explore new sources of revenue, as an established platform provides added value to the end user, Dai said. For instance, IP-based technologies can be utilized to transform the mobile DVR to a central hub for transmitting all types of data back to the headquarters or a server, Qin added.

Location-based technologies and advertising appear to be a match made in heaven, and yet current solutions seem underwhelming. “From a DVR manufacturer 's perspective, this has been more hype than reality. Most security-centric DVR manufacturers offer capabilities but do not have the ecosystem of partners (advertising sales, content providers) to capitalize on this opportunity,” Dilber said.

The main challenge in developing such a platform is that it is no longer about a single device, or even integration between devices, Qin said.

"However, there is strong demand from customers for this functionality. We expect fleet managers to be able to recoup their investments from such a system in no more than six months. In China, the development of location-based advertising systems for public transportation is accelerating and will gain wide adoption within the next two years, as the 3-G networks mature and 4-G networks debut.”

Meeting Expectations
The biggest gap in customer satisfaction stems from unrealistic expectations of performance over wireless networks, particularly in a mobile environment, Dilber said. "While usability has improved immensely over the past several years, customers' expectations still revolve around ‘YouTube-like' playback or CSI-type interfaces. The mobile video industry, like the physical security industry, has not successfully managed these expectations and explained the technical or cost challenges that limit or prohibit such functionality.”

Moreover, end users often do not understand how video transmission is limited by the available bandwidth, Wang said. “Sometimes, customers ask for real-time transmission of D1 video at 25 fps. The fact is that 3-G transmission cannot meet this demand, and a solution that provides CIF at 20 fps is much more practical.”

As is the case with video surveillance in general, end users can also be unfamiliar with technical limitations. “Some of the unrealistic demands on the viewing software are similar to that in the fixed security market, where people expect to zoom into the video to see small details clearly,” Simmons said. “Another unrealistic expectation is for cameras mounted outside to capture clear images of license plates of passing vehicles, or to see drivers inside cars that are passing.”

Some customers have requests that impact safety but cannot be provided for due to regulation or business ethics, Qin said. “We have had customers request the capability to remotely cut off power and fuel when the vehicle is hijacked. Although this is technically possible and not difficult to implement, there are safety concerns that make this impractical.”

The top priority of developing and deploying mobile solutions should be to increase security and safety. “If any additional functionality cannot adhere to this concept, it should not be implemented even if it is technically possible,” Qin concluded.

Looking Ahead
Looking forward, 4-G networks such as LTE will be much more reliable and provide more affordable bandwidth, enabling further innovation in this space, Qin said. “Depending on the vendor, mobile DVRs fit for 4-G transmission should be deployable and take advantage of the networks within three months of its licensing and commercialization.”