Surveillance system checks for intruders
In large department stores, losses due to theft can total thousands of dollars a week, which severely impacts their operational profits. Multiply these losses by tens or even hundreds of stores in a retail chain, and the financial numbers become staggering.
Single-site system monitors several stores during nonbusiness hours to detect people in secured areas.
By Lawrence J. Curran,Contributing Editor
In large department stores, losses due to theft can total thousands of dollars a week, which severely impacts their operational profits. Multiply these losses by tens or even hundreds of stores in a retail chain, and the financial numbers become staggering. This security problem has been addressed by Aralia Systems Ltd. (Milnwood, West Sussex, England) by installing a camera-based surveillance system in a major chain of stores with outlets in the United Kingdom and Europe. Providing visual images and documentation of theft is only one contribution of the Aralia system; it also monitors and remotely controls lighting, heating, and ventilation in the stores.
Security technician monitors customer activities on a console at the Technical Surveillance Ltd. central facility. Console shows store's floor plan and camera-control icons. (Photo courtesy of Technical Surveillance Ltd.)
The centralized digital-based system allows the monitoring of multiple sites by a small staff at a single central location. This approach makes it economical to operate the system 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The central system digitally records to hard disk all video footage and pictures transmitted by multiple cameras. The images are archived for searching at a convenient time. Should a problem arise, the central-site technician can speak directly via an audio link to a security person in the relevant store.
The system's image-processing capability also enables unmanned monitoring during nonbusiness hours by recognizing the presence of people in an inappropriate area of a store. If such a target is detected, the system generates an alarm. This detection mode allows individual stores to save even more on security costs.
Moreover, the system can automatically submit pictures to a central database at Aralia's customer—Technical Surveillance Ltd. (TSL; Northwich, Cheshire, England; see photo). This company provides contract surveillance to utilities, department stores, and corporations that have no in-house security facilities. Glynn Wright, Aralia Systems managing director, says TSL was a customer for Aralia's Iberis software and associated ILEX-C security hardware and asked the company to extend the system to enable the monitoring of multiple sites (see Fig. 1).
The central database, which stores pictures and details of known criminals, allows the vision system to check an image captured from video footage against stored pictures. In addition, the Aralia Iberis communications server provides automatic messaging and data transfers to security-staff members. The Iberis server comprises two major equipment segments—one segment is located in each department store, and the second is housed in the central TSL facility (see Fig. 2).
Wright explains that when a TSL technician in a store touches a camera icon on the system console, a command is sent to the appropriate ILEX controller. In turn, this controller sends commands to the Philips Communication (Eindhoven, The Netherlands) matrix controller, which routes the appropriate video source into an MPEG compressor residing in the ILEX-C controller.
When a video source is activated, a data packet is sent to the video server, which logs the channel identification and inserts that information into its database along with the raw video data (including audio). The technician can also select up to nine alternative channels, which are routed into the FOR-A Corp. (Gainesville, FL) multiviewer.
All nine channels are acquired in the ILEX-C controller by a frame grabber from Integral Technologies (Teignmouth, England). The information is transmitted at a rate of approximately one frame every five seconds to the technician in the department store. Each technician is equipped with a 30-frame/s video link, audio, and a slow scan of up to nine additional cameras. The technician can review the last 10 or 20 seconds of video by selecting a pop-up replay button on the Sanyo Video Components Corp. (San Diego, CA) touchscreen. A local recording of the data is then displayed on one of the slow-scan screens.
The technician also can execute all the basic system functions, such as slow motion and single stepping, from either of the two touchscreens and can also take a snapshot and have it automatically submitted to a remote database of known shoplifters. A face-recognition algorithm searches through the database for a possible match.
The pilot system developed for TSL's department-store customer controls about 200 cameras. It can be expanded to cover as many as six stores. The initial system would cover all the major stores of the customer in a 100-mile region. "When the system is fully deployed, the potential savings on manpower for the company approaches hundreds of people," Wright points out.
The user interface is designed so that a technician can monitor any connected store, even though the technician is not familiar with the site. According to Wright, "That's why we chose to use the FLASH interface development team from Macromedia Inc. (San Francisco, CA). This team designs Web sites. It offered us a large pool of Web-site designers, rather than highly skilled application programmers, to design the user interface. This interface can also be tailored to each store at a reasonable cost. We used undergraduate students with basic skills in computing to do this work."
A FLASH interface is also connected to the video server database, which can be interrogated from any console on the network. The technician can hot-swap data on an 80-Gbyte drive that contains 24 hours of data from the video server to disks. These disks are held for 10 days as a record of activity on the monitored sites, after which British law requires that they must be erased.
FIGURE 2. The Aralia Iberis server runs a database that manages the console system at the central site and the Web server that provides the user interface to the system. The high-performance video server stores the image data received from the remote sites. The video renderer regenerates the MPEG video images into NTSC format for display on any of four CRT screens. The touchscreen processor decompresses the JPEG images and displays them on one of the LCD touchscreens. It also displays a Web browser, which provides access to the Web pages on the Web server and includes floor plans that link directly to the ILEX-C controllers.
Wright says the Iberis system has additional capabilities. "For example, the system enables operation from a console remote from the main console, such as the manager's PC at home. It can also be configured to perform covert surveillance," he adds.
The system configuration for the central-site facility contains six processors: the Iberis server, video server, two video renderers, and two centralized touchscreen processors, plus the ILEX-C controller at each store.
The Iberis server is a rack-mounted PC provided by ASUSTeK Computer Inc. (ASUS; Taipei, Taiwan) that uses an 850-MHz Athlon microprocessor from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (Sunnyvale, CA). It offers communications links, such as audio, telephone, e-mail, short messaging, and paging, to external devices as well as to the interface of the database of known shoplifters.
The ASUS video server is also a rack-mounted system built around a 1-GHz Athlon microprocessor. It runs the database used to store image data received from remote sites. The data include streaming MPEG1 video and JPEG sequences.
The video renderer uses a 750-MHz Athlon ASUS PC as the front end, with a back end provided by a VideoPlex streaming-media endpoint platform from Optibase (Herzliya, Israel). It regenerates the MPEG video images into NTSC format for display on any of the four Sony Security System (Park Ridge, NJ) CRT screens.
The ASUS 750-MHz touchscreen processor decompresses the JPEG images and displays them on one of the Sanyo LCD touchscreens. It also displays a Web browser, which provides access to the pages on the Web server and includes floor plans that link directly to the ILEX-C controllers. The console configuration is touch-operated onto the Web page displays by the technician (see Fig. 3). The displays are written in FLASH 5 language and communicate with the ILEX-C controllers and the video/Web servers using XML language Wright says the ILEX-C controller "sets up and drives the matrix controller, which pushes the captured images down to the router."
The 42-in. Hitachi NSA (Westwood, MA) plasma panel screen serves as an alternative display for viewing archived, live, or recent video events. This screen also can display status information generated by the Iberis server.
Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
Sunnyvale, CA 94088
Aralia Systems Ltd.
Milnwood, West Sussex, England
ASUSTeK Computer Inc.
Gainesville, FL 32609
Westwood, MA 02090
Integral Technologies Ltd.
Teignmouth TQ14 8NQ, England
San Francisco, CA 94103
Philips Communication, Security & Imaging BV
5616 LD Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Sanyo Video Components Corp.
San Diego, CA 92173
Sony Security Systems
Park Ridge, NJ 07656
Technical Surveillance Ltd.
Northwich, Cheshire, England