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Cutting-edge surveillance technology

Written by Kevin Gordon

Sometimes you just run into a new technology that can really benefit public safety, and sometimes you find one that is just cool. And then sometimes…you find one that is both.

While spending some time looking for what was new and different in the surveillance area that could benefit public safety, I came across some very impressive products provided by two companies, Immersive Media Corp. an advanced digital video imaging company that was founded in 1994, and FLIR Systems, founded in 1978, the world’s leading supplier of thermal imaging systems for law enforcement.

Immersive Media Corp.

The company name of Immersive is a great descriptor. You are truly immersed in the scene. IM’s video is spherical, which means the viewers can look any direction they want, whenever they want. This is really some impressive stuff that has been called “a paradigm shift in conventional thinking, and its application is limited only by the imagination.” You don’t watch this video; you control the video.

Immersive Media’s Dodeca 2360 Immersive Video Camera uses a geodesic array of 11 video sensors that are able to capture video in all directions. Then, using IM’s advanced software, the 11 video feeds are seamlessly tied together, resulting in one single spherical video that allows the viewer to click and drag, looking around in any direction.

The camera is a dodecahedron design, which means it has 12 faces. And you thought that geometry class would never come in handy! For immersive image capture, this design is a natural as it provides symmetrical sphere divisions that produces even resolution for all directions. The camera has some very interesting specs including the following:

• Full environments can be recorded and transmitted at a resolution of 2400x1200 pixels per frame, 30 frames per second.

• Eleven video streams build up maximum resolution using more than 100 million pixels per second.

• Up to three hours of full motion at a time on hot-swappable hard disks.

• Time-lapse recording and playback, special low-light modes.

• All camera and recording functions controllable through external interface.

• The camera, recorder and control pad together weigh less than 25 pounds.

• The camera head is less than 2.5 pounds and is less than 9 inches tall.

• Optional mount minimizes camera motion from a person carrying it.

• Cat. 5E cable to camera can be up to 400 feet long; thin optical cable can be up to a mile.

• The Small Portable Recorder fits in a daypack, weighs only 20 pounds, and is battery or AC powered.

• Time, GPS and additional data can be recorded together with the image.

• Immersive programming can be distributed on regular CDs or DVDs.

IM OnScene™ is an interactive mapping application combined with immersive video. This Web-based application pairs mapping technology with immersive video.

Dean Williams, the IM’s vice president of sales, understands the importance to public safety. “Imagine it’s your job to enter a building you’ve never been in, find a suspect armed for war who does know the building, and take him by surprise. Wouldn’t you want the best information available about that building? Beyond floor plans or 3D models, IM OnScene puts you where you need to be and lets you see what you need to see, before you go in.”

OnScene permits the capture of 360 degrees of your campus, building, facility, etc. Any property can be displayed on the computer, and it can be paired with blueprints to create a sort of video map. For example, one could have video on the right of the screen and blueprints on the left. The finished product can be burned onto a DVD or provided over the Web. The user doesn’t need any background in mapping or GIS.

This technology has even brought us a new term, “geoimmersive,” which is defined as a “360-degree video embedded with GPS information that can be integrated into any mapping application.” Taking it a step further, by merging a variety of items from aerial photographs, multimedia, GPS mapping, immersive video and 3D images, you can virtually drive, fly or walk through an emergency situation.

Think of the potential for public safety with the increased awareness for any potential crisis if first responders had such video available of their school campuses (both interior and exterior), critical infrastructures, government buildings or any at-risk areas. Being able to look at one area from all angles, side, top, front, and back would assist in planning for major events, crowd control, search and rescue and incident response. Using the Immersive Video Camera on a drug raid, building entry, coast guard boarding or any such enforcement action would provide a “you are there” virtual video that could be used for incident review, training, court or other documentation, providing the viewer with a complete perspective that lets you look in any direction, as if you were there.

“For first responders, an IM OnScene package means that visual information is readily available for any part of a building to plan response effectively and, potentially, save lives,” according to Williams. As previously mentioned, its application is limited only by your imagination. A case study involved Fluor Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which was first established during WWII in 1943 as a part of the famed Manhattan Project. Hanford produced radioactive material for the U.S. nuclear arsenal for more than 30 years. It is now the United States’ most contaminated nuclear site, as well as the largest environmental cleanup in the world. They had to find a way to visually inspect certain aspects without risking unneeded exposure to the employees. Standard photography wouldn’t work, and even 360-degree photographs did not give adequate coverage of what they needed. But the immersive video did provide that coverage. Detailed notes that were taken during the facility walk-through were later incorporated into the video along with the facility floor plan. The end result was a safer working environment for the employees.

If you have ever looked at a street level map on Google’s Web site, you have experienced still images. According to the CEO of Immersive Media Corp., Myles McGovern, “Immersive media became the first player in this space when we sent our first camera vehicle to each major U.S. city in 2005. That team captured the data and demo footage for the project I eventually showed to Google. We supplied GPS-referenced, 360° video, from which still images were selected, for the initial launch of Google Street View application in May 2007. Street View’s massive popularity has been an incredible validation of Immersive technology, and there is a much richer data set available for asset management, augmentation, and 3D modeling. Immersive Media is now focused on leveraging the medium of Immersive video across not only the mapping market, but also public safety, advertising and entertainment.”

Another camera is the new IM Surrounder. This is a surveillance system that captures high-quality spherical video for both mobile and fixed surveillance operations. Think about a simple surveillance video inside a convenience store or service station. Remember the last video you saw of an armed robbery or disturbance or even a car crashing into the store. Remember how at some point you couldn’t see something important because it was out of the screen? The IM Surrounder records 360 degrees without these limitations of the traditional pan / tilt / zoom camera.

The potential in this arena is astounding. A business will be able to provide more coverage with fewer cameras and save money. It will be able to capture everyone at one time using the six lenses that record in all directions that can later be combined into a spherical view. Time stamps and GPS coordinates can be added if needed. The IM Surrounder is versatile, and its design and size allow it to be mounted in a variety of areas, including ceilings and walls and on cars and helicopters. In addition to the obvious uses for the retail world, opportunities for deployment include selected railway crossings, airports and other mass transportation, industrial sites, casinos, utility lines and pipelines, and border patrol areas, to name a few.

To experience some of the 360 situational awareness demos online, visit www.immersivemedia.com. A person can veiw a flight atop Mt. St. Helens, surf the waves of Teahupoo, experience bungee jumping, or see what it is like to be on the field at Notre Dame. But be prepared: this technology is truly addictive!

FLIR Systems

Thermal imaging camera systems have been around since the 1960s, but the advancements in the technology continue. Most public safety officers are familiar with the advantages of thermal imaging cameras, usually from their airborne uses. Forward looking infrared (FLIR) is imaging technology that uses heat. The camera does not need visible light. As is the case with many other technology areas, the military was first to use it, often for navigation purposes and search and rescue.

When the military first used the imaging, the camera usually pointed straight down, under the belly of cargo plans or bombers. It was later moved to the nose of the plane and became the “forward” in FLIR. FLIR Systems was founded in 1978 to break out of the “military only” mindset and market the system to a cross-section of users. FLIR is used in many areas, including electric power distribution, preventative maintenance in factories, building inspections, homeland security, perimeter security, law enforcement, airborne navigation and maritime navigation.

There are certainly many airborne and maritime uses, but the advantages of FLIR ground use for law enforcement is an area agencies need to explore. This is the area where great advances are occurring that can assist in enforcement and officer safety.

FLIR Systems provides a variety of products, including handhelds and vehicle-mounted units. FLIR’s ThermoSight and FlashSight are compact thermal imagers that can be used for search, surveillance, SWAT teams and general patrol. The units can save 70 still images internally, which can be downloaded later via USB. You can also display live video on a standard TV monitor.

All the units, simply put, permit an officer to see in the total darkness. Since the job of the officer is to drive around in the dark and look, it makes you wonder why a unit isn’t installed in every squad. When looking for a suspect with a flashlight, he knows where you are. Using FLIR, you can look for him while remaining hidden, making you less of a target.

These compact units can help in locating more than people. They can locate evidence thrown away at a crime scene or cars that were recently parked, and they can see through smoke and light fog.

The PathFindIR LE is a vehicle-based thermal imaging system that is available in both kit form or as cameral only module. The aptly named PathFindIR easily mounts behind the grille or on a lightbar and helps drivers see better at night, avoiding potential collisions with animals, pedestrians and other drivers. It sees four times beyond the range of headlights and gives the driver more time to react. It allows the officer to watch an area or scene from a distance quietly, unnoticed by the suspects who can’t hide their heat.

The Newport Beach Police (CA) recently experienced the advantages of FLIR cameras. Newport Beach is a very exclusive community, and the beaches are closed to the public each evening. When the sun sets, groups of young people head to the closed beaches, resulting in disturbances and general disruption to the area. Newport Beach Police have to provide officers to patrol the beaches each evening at a great cost to the department, which is also a loss of those officers in other areas of the community. When reviewing options, the agency looked into cameras. There isn’t enough light on the beach for regular cameras, and providing lighting on the beach wasn’t an option.

In June 2008, seven thermal security cameras were installed that provided overlapping imaging zones. All the video is fed to the agency’s dispatch and command center. It is monitored by motion-detection software, which alerts employees to beach activity. The activity can they be quickly evaluated to determine if an officer needs to be sent.

In many other areas security, law enforcement and homeowners are using IR security cameras to protect their property and persons. Cameras are also being used to help boat owners to see other ships, docks and piers and debris, enabling the captains to navigate as safely at night as they do during the day.

FLIR Systems has two Infrared Training Centers where it can train customers on all applications of infrared imaging. To see some incredible videos of the varied uses of FLIR, visit www.flir.com. Under “Support and Resources,” click the video library.

Kevin Gordon spent 25 years in law enforcement and retired as a chief of police. He holds an MA in security management, and his is a CEM and a CPP. He is a national and regional officer of the International Police Association. He can be reached at kevin@kgordon.com.

Published in Public Safety IT, Jan/Feb 2009

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