SP&T News

Lidar: The next wave of security

December 10, 2019  By Neil Huntingdon

Businesses today require more robust surveillance than the CCTV cameras, radar and microwave sensing technologies of the past few decades.

New types of technologies have emerged to help address the drawbacks of traditional security solutions, but some of these new systems have stirred up a lot of controversy.

Facial recognition technology in particular has been met with criticism from privacy advocates who claim it infringes on people’s inherent right to privacy.

Lidar technology offers an answer. Lidar enables advanced 3D perception to detect, track and classify objects and behaviours to allow for the determination of whether something is a threat.

Lidar’s high resolution point cloud data provides valuable information such as the location, size and velocity of a person or object, without showing facial features and other biometric information.

This preserves the anonymity of people not involved in security incidents, unlike traditional security solutions.

Where lidar can be implemented

So what types of applications will lidar be used for? Lidar is suited for a wide variety of industries and use cases including:

Crowd analytics: Stadiums, theme parks and other types of popular attractions can use lidar to track crowd flow and monitor room occupancy to prevent accidents.

• Behaviour detection: Parking lots and retail stores can use lidar to track for specific behaviours such as loitering, running or crawling to help prevent theft and other types of criminal activity. Airports, train stations and government institutions can also monitor whether someone drops a package and leaves it unattended.

• Intrusion protection: Critical infrastructure and other public and private facilities can rely on lidar for perimeter protection, triggering an alarm when intrusion occurs.

• Access control: Manufacturing plants, companies, hospitals and schools can rely on lidar to flag unauthorized entry and even monitor for activities like tailgating where someone follows an authorized individual into a secure area.

• On-site safety: Construction sites and mines can help prevent accidents and vehicle collisions by using lidar to monitor for collisions and people or objects entering into dangerous zones.

With perception software, a smart lidar product can be customized for a company’s specific security needs. Operators can define specific intrusion zones, for example, and configure their systems to follow specific protocols if a security incident is flagged. This enables companies to monitor their environment in real time and immediately be alerted if there’s a potential threat.

Addressing pain points

Designed with simple integration in mind, smart lidar sensors can add an additional layer to existing security systems. This works to solve many of the key pain points of traditional security solutions.

Lidar can help reduce false positives thanks to its high resolution. Radar sensors, while useful for some types of detection, may not deliver high enough resolution to accurately identify potential threats.

Lidar can provide data with resolution high enough to tell the difference between humans, big animals and small animals, and identify behaviours such as running and crouching, helping to reduce alert fatigue so companies focus on security incidents that actually require attention.

Another challenge with traditional security systems is their constrained operating environments. Cameras can only provide high resolution imaging in good lighting conditions. While companies can install some artificial lighting, that’s not as feasible for monitoring large areas.

Thermal cameras are an alternative to monitor an area in the dark, however, they can be fooled — for example, if a thermal signature of an object matches its surroundings.

Microwave sensing technology is another type of sensor that only works well in certain conditions, given its sensitivity to humidity and movement caused by wind, etc. By contrast, lidar can see regardless of lighting conditions.

Lidar provides 3D perception, unlike traditional security technologies which provide 2D imaging information.

Even cameras can struggle with providing true 3D images, and often overlay images from different CCTV cameras to create the appearance of a 3D image. This difference in perception can make a considerable difference when it comes to accurately detecting and identifying threats based on the object’s dimensions, location and moving speed to keep people safe and protect businesses’ assets.

Interference is also a concern for traditional security systems. Radar and microwave sensors are impacted by electromagnetic interference, which limits their accuracy in locations like a power station that has a lot of steelwork.

Lidar, however, is tolerant to electromagnetic interference and works well in a wide variety of environments. It is also tolerant to interference from other types of sensors, making it a good complement to existing devices.

Data storage and transmission is another issue to consider. Camera-based systems require more data capacity to transmit video footage, and the costs to store, transmit and process this data can add up. Lidar-based systems, if combined with edge processing, enable low-bandwidth data output and will keep data transmission to a minimum.

Finally, one of the most important factors for surveillance is having real-time monitoring. Traditional camera setups only work in real time if someone is watching the cameras full time, or if detection systems are implemented. Lidar can flag incidents immediately without alert fatigue.

Evaluating lidar systems

Existing lidar systems use various technologies and deliver different performance levels, so it’s important that companies carefully evaluate different systems to determine what’s right for them.

Some of the key factors to consider are the basic specs of a lidar sensor (resolution, range, field of view, etc.) and its cost. However, there are several other considerations that are equally important.

Intelligence is a critical feature for lidar sensors, given the increasing need for a smart IoT network.

One way to add intelligence to lidar is combining it with edge computing. When data is processed locally, it reduces the burden of data storage costs, reduces network bandwidth and better protects the data from hacking attempts. Plus, edge processing opens up the door to mobile installations — lidar systems don’t have to be tethered to a building to operate. Having built-in perception software can further boost the intelligence of lidar. It can increase the connectivity between lidar sensors for comprehensive coverage and device-to-device seamless tracking.

Another consideration for lidar systems is ease of integration and use. While some lidar sensors can be complicated to use, other systems are designed to be used right out of the box.

The next generation of security systems

Since no one type of technology is infallible, the next generation of security systems will integrate lidar in combination with cameras, radar and other sensors.

In fact, these technologies work well together to help eliminate blind spots and provide maximum coverage of an area requiring surveillance.

Radar technology works well as the first layer of security with its long range detection capabilities. If radar detects an intrusion, it can trigger an initial alarm or response. Lidar fills in the gap in the security industry for medium range detection. Lidar can detect and classify people and objects with extreme accuracy, so security systems can immediately escalate a threat when warranted. Cameras serve as an ideal vehicle for close-up detection to further verify a threat. And to give security operators the best of both worlds, lidar data can be overlaid on a camera view so the information is even easier to understand and analyze.

As privacy concerns continue to dominate headlines, lidar offers businesses a solution for anonymized surveillance.

The good news is that lidar is quickly becoming more accessible for security implementations. Over the next few years, we’ll see autonomous cars drive the production of lidar at scale, pushing down the cost of lidar even further.

Security manufacturers will also start to integrate lidar into their standard offerings. Lidar will play a pivotal role in ushering in a new anonymized security era that preserves privacy and protects businesses.

Neil Huntingdon is the vice-president of business development at Cepton Technologies Inc., a 3D lidar solutions provider (www.cepton.com).

This story originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2019 issue of SP&T News.

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