The Camera is Watching You: VideoIQ Puts Smarts into Surveillance

7/9/08Follow @wroush

Even before events like 9/11, the Madrid train bombings, and the London Underground bombings, governments and corporations were busy blanketing outdoor and indoor spaces with networked cameras, reasoning that video surveillance can help security professionals spot criminal activity in progress, or at least get it on tape. But there’s one big problem with the blanket approach: the more cameras an organization installs, the more people it takes to watch them, and the more recorded video there is to review if an incident occurs. It’s a classic case of information overload.

Many analysts have predicted that this problem will eventually be solved by moving some of the intelligence in a video surveillance network to its edges: that is, by building “smart” cameras that can determine on their own whether the events they’re observing are suspicious, then alert human operators in real time, or store the video stream differently, so that there’s more information to help investigators later.

And now a Bedford, MA, company called VideoIQ—a 2007 spinout of General Electric’s security division—is taking the first steps in that direction. The company is set to release its first smart digital surveillance cameras in August, and it announced today that it has more than doubled its venture financing pot, raising $10 million in a Series B round led by Lehman Brothers Venture Partners. (Existing investors Matrix Partners and Atlas Venture, both headquartered in Waltham, MA, were also in on the round.)

VideoIQ\'s iCVR CameraVideoIQ’s new camera, the Intelligent IP Surveillance Camera with Video Recording, or iCVR, has a built-in Linux computer with video analytics software that can identify events of interest—for example, a person approaching the perimeter of a power plant—and notify a security guard. It also has a hard drive that’s smart enough to save digital video data at full resolution when there’s something interesting going on within the camera’s field of view, but compress it when there’s nothing happening, meaning that it can store up to two months’ worth of data, compared to the week or two stored by many older systems.

“This is the first generation of a very powerful technology that we believe will revolutionize surveillance, because the vast majority of all video systems are not monitored at all,” says VideoIQ president and CEO Scott Schnell, a former Atlas entrepreneur-in-residence who is a veteran of RSA Security, Photonics, Apple, McKinsey, and Chevron. “The primary purpose is to enable the delivery of forensic information quickly and efficiently, if something does happen.”

The iCVR isn’t the first surveillance camera with built-in hard drive and video compression software, but it’s one of the first to add video analytics software to the mix. Currently, adding motion-detection or object-tracking capability to an existing surveillance network can cost $1,000 to $2,000 per camera, according to Schnell. But because VideoIQ’s analytics software runs on the same built-in processor used for compression and storage management, customers essentially get it for free.

And if an organization replaces or upgrades its existing surveillance systems with VideoIQ cameras—a project that will cost about $1,800 per camera, Schnell says—it also gets a distributed storage system that doesn’t rely on a central recording device (a collection of VideoIQ cameras functions, in essence, as one big networked DVR), as well as cameras with state-of-the-art sensors from Mountain View, CA-based Pixim that are capable of seeing in both bright sunlight and low-light, nighttime conditions.

The biggest initial customers for the system, Schnell believes, will be large facilities with extensive outdoor perimeters that need protecting. “The larger the perimeter, the more costly it is to have manned patrols, and the more monotonous it is” to monitor video cameras visually, Schnell points out. But if the cameras themselves are tuned to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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