Forty-five years ago Sonitrol was founded by a police officer that felt there had to be a better way to monitor a business and reduce the number of false alarms. He thought motion detection systems were the weak link in the alarm industry and developed the first sound-based alarm system.
Today, Sonitrol’s audio detection technology has become the choice of large retail customers such as Canadian Tire, as well as school boards and manufacturing facilities.
But over the years intelligent remote surveillance has remained an area that called for improved technology.
By Jennifer Brown
Yes, a camera could record activity at a construction site, but could
it verify whether an intruder was for real or just a rabbit crossing
the path of the lens? It certainly couldn’t isolate the activity and
show the monitoring attendant what, exactly, was happening.
That’s why Sonitrol started offering a homegrown remote video
monitoring for customers who had intrusion systems and also wanted ways
to protect their yards and verify a real incident was taking place.
“We started investigating video analytics and developed an in-house
system. We figured there had to be a way to cover larger areas and cut
down the number of false activations coming from motion detection
systems and identify where, specifically, the activity was occurring,”
says Rob Simopoulos, a partner with Sonitrol in Burlington, Ont. “Video
analytics produces a visual aid to do that.”
After considerable beta testing in-house Sonitrol started retrofitting
some of its customers to use video analytics about eight months ago.
“It’s really changed our business,” says Simopoulos, adding that the
company has integrated ioimage for video analytics into their client
locations in conjunction with Bosch, Pelco (analogue) or IQinvision
Ioimage video analytics enhance surveillance effectiveness by
automating the task of monitoring video and detecting events, providing
a high probability of detection while maintaining a low false alarm
“What we add is a box around an individual or vehicle, depending on how
the analytic is set up, so the operator doesn’t have to look at
countless video streams or search the video for what the alert is,”
says John Whiteman, ioimage president, Americas.
Some of the sectors using analytics today include car dealerships
looking to catch vandals or thieves stealing gas, and construction
sites with valuable equipment, cabling or scrap metal.
For example, in October 2008, ioimage video analytics was installed at
the construction site of a new $104.5-million high school for the Poway
Unified School District (PUSD) in Southern California to protect the
site and construction materials from theft and vandalism. The
contractor was looking to reduce costs in the area of security guard
The security integrator on the project incorporated ioimage’s video
appliances into a mobile surveillance trailer equipped with a DVR,
Pelco Spectra IV camera system, cellular router, back-up battery and
GPS system. With the addition of video analytics, the unit provides
around-the-clock intelligent video surveillance of the entire
construction site with proactive video alerts monitored by a remote
video monitoring station. The contractor estimated cost savings from
reduced security guard patrols would be $100,000.
Sonitrol customers include equipment rental facilities where the
equipment is going to remote construction sites and car rental
End-users have found they can deploy cameras with a virtual perimeter
around the construction site, and any time after hours. If someone
attempts to breach that perimeter, they can send a visual alert to a
Video monitoring is projected to be one of the fastest growing areas in
the security industry for several reasons, says Whiteman, including
municipal bylaws with reduced tolerance for false alarms.
Companies who were using passive infrared or motion detectors are
starting to replace them with intelligent sensors so the operator sees
only streams of video alerts that have identified activity.
There is also a move to remote guarding. Some companies are reducing
physical, active guard tours by contracting it out to remote video
monitoring companies that do predefined tours. They dial into the site
and check particular cameras as well as receive video alerts if any of
the analytic rules have been broken.
A business can apply video analytics using existing analogue cameras by dropping in the ioimage encoders.
One of the challenges for the industry is that analytics can be used
with an existing analogue camera, but they are at the mercy of the
quality of that camera, explains Whiteman.
“Someone might put a $100 camera out there and want to see 500 feet
away, but the picture is blurry and has noise on it. That’s not a good
image for analytics to work with because it’s going to have detections
and false alarms. The move to better quality cameras feeds into the
analytic and helps the performance as far as lower false alarm rates
and increased detection,” says Whiteman.
Simopoulos says Sonitrol is now offering megapixel cameras as the
standard. Despite the increased cost, they are finding the technology
is surpassing legacy hardware.
“Customers are recognizing the difference in quality and realizing they
can get away with fewer cameras and the fact that PTZs are sometimes
missing what’s going on. It’s about a 30-40 per cent investment on top
of a normal analogue system, but in the end you’re giving the customer
a much better system,” he says.
In fact Ed Bodbyl, also a partner with Sonitrol in Burlington, Ont.,
says he thinks megapixel cameras have surpassed other camera technology
on the market.
“In our business, the megapixel cameras kill the pan, tilt, zoom. And I
don’t think we’ll be putting pan, tilt, zoom in anymore,” he says. “A
five megapixel fixed camera looking into one area is going to do much
more than the pan, tilt, zoom and you don’t miss a thing.”
A manufacturing site Sonitrol monitors in London, Ont., has 35 Arecont
megapixel cameras installed. Simopoulos says the company had a proposal
from one of their competitors for pan, tilt, zoom cameras to be
installed “all over the place.
“It was pretty easy for us to say, ‘That’s old technology, look at
this megapixel technology.’ At the end of the day the cost was the same
for a 35 camera megapixel system compared to what they had in analogue.
“We were able to take cameras out and guarantee 100 per cent coverage,
not miss anything and have licence plate recognition with megapixel
cameras,” says Bodbyl.
Of course, bandwidth use at the monitoring station can be a concern with the megapixel cameras.
“The video feed back to the monitoring station only happens when we get
alarms, so we do not constantly stream back,” says Bodbyl.
“It’s all about bandwidth and file sizes,” says Simopoulos. “What’s
been holding us back in our monitoring station is that I can’t be
streaming five megapixel jpeg shots back here — it will chew up
bandwidth. For central monitoring station, as nice as it would be, we
just need to see if there is someone in the yard, but now that H.264
has come out and we have those cameras we should be able to bring
smaller file sizes back into the monitoring station.”
Simopoulos says some of the traditional camera vendors are falling
behind in terms of getting on board with megapixel technology.
“As integrators and dealers we’re going to have to jump on this new
technology or we’re going to be left behind when those IT companies
start jumping into megapixel and IP systems.”