Innovations in mobile surveillance technology have led to higher-quality video and a wider range of options for transit agencies. High-definition video gives transit agencies detailed footage of incidents, and improvements in memory and storage have made it much more cost-effective for agencies to use these solutions. Detailed footage can make it much easier for agencies to identify anyone who has committed a crime aboard a transit vehicle, and can even help them identify license plate numbers.
However, high-definition video takes up far more storage space, which can be costly. In addition, transit agencies that already use analog cameras may not find it practical to replace them all at once. As a result, surveillance companies provide a variety of options to help transit agencies get the benefit of high-definition cameras and new DVR technology in a cost-effective manner.
In addition to the move to high-definition cameras, modern DVRs have greater capabilities than before, making it easier for transit agencies to find the necessary footage. Companies such as REI allow analog cameras to be integrated with new DVRs to help transit agencies improve their capabilities without paying to replace their entire system, according to Curtiss Routh, VP, sales, for REI.
New recording systems commonly include features, such as Wi-Fi downloading capability, live feeds and GPS searching. Solutions can also include programs and sensors to monitor driver behavior. Integrating these technologies can help transit agencies make the most effective use of their mobile surveillance solutions.
Customization, hybrid systems
“I think the stop-gap is really the hybrid systems,” says Lori Jetha, director, marketing, for Seon. “It allows you to make the transition to IP when you have the budget, but still allows you to keep and record with your existing analog cameras.”
Hybrid systems allow agencies to place HD cameras where they most need high-quality footage, while keeping analog cameras in areas where they are effective. In general, transit agencies using hybrid systems tend to prefer forward-facing and exterior cameras to be high definition, because this better captures incidents when traffic may be moving at high speeds, whereas the relatively more stable interior can be captured by analog cameras, according to Jetha. It’s also common to place the high-definition cameras near the farebox or step well to capture interaction between drivers and passengers.
Because many transit agencies require a combination of high-quality video and long recording times, surveillance companies offer options to help transit agencies customize their systems to get the type of footage they need. Apollo Video Technology offers “optimal quality recording,” which keeps the highest quality footage for a shorter period of time and retains standard definition video for longer periods of time, saving hard drive space. This allows transit agencies to get the highest quality footage when necessary, such as in cases of violent crimes, while retaining footage that might become relevant later for liability reasons.
“If there’s a crime, you’re going to go get that video today. You’re not going to wait,” explains Apollo Video CEO Rodell Notbohm.
On the other hand, when someone tries to defraud a transit agency by claiming they slipped and fell on a bus, “they’re going to wait as long as they can, hoping that the transit agency can’t find any evidence to refute their claim,” says Notbohm. As a result, it can be valuable for transit agencies to have both types of footage.
New types of cameras can reduce the amount of cameras required and improve safety applications. Many large buses may require as many as 16 cameras to provide full coverage. According to Monica Marcos, marketing specialist for Safety Vision, new 360-degree cameras can change this, improving the value a transit agency gets from its surveillance system. The cameras can be used both inside and outside the bus, and have a fisheye lens, which gives a wide view.
“You can get all the coverage that you need from two 360 cameras, so you will be able to do a pan-tilt-zoom in the software,” says Marcos. “It would not even cost more money, because you’re cutting the amount of cameras, but still getting all the coverage that you need.”
With their broad view, 360-degree cameras can also be helpful for drivers. Some companies, such as Seon, offer a 360-degree system that provides a view monitor for drivers, giving them a more comprehensive view around the bus. This improves pedestrian safety by allowing drivers to see areas that would otherwise be in their blind spots. The footage from the driver monitor can also be recorded as part of the surveillance system.
Mobile surveillance innovations aren’t just about pixels and frame rates: the highest definition video won’t help transit agencies if they can’t find the footage they need. Wi-Fi downloading has become necessary to help transit agencies get relevant footage more quickly and easily, and many systems offer live feed capabilities, as well.
With Wi-Fi, rather than having to physically remove a hard drive to get their footage, the agency can schedule downloads to occur automatically when the bus returns to its depot, simplifying the process of getting footage. Because server space is expensive, agencies may not want to store all footage, so it’s important for them to able to choose what to download, according to Marcos.
“It is all configurable to what the agency wants,” says Marcos. “If they want to download all video, if they only want to download event video, if they only want to download video that they request — that is scheduled, so it’s not constantly downloading if they don’t want to.”
All the surveillance companies agreed that GPS integration is a crucial new feature to help transit agencies find relevant footage. With GPS and management software, agencies can search their system to find all buses that passed through a specific location during a specific timeframe, and then schedule a download for that footage. In cases when a member of the public complains or police request footage, this makes it easier for agencies to locate the relevant video and provide it. This can also help agencies prove that an incident did not occur or that they were not at fault, if necessary.
System failures can prevent transit agencies from getting necessary video footage, but it can be easy to miss malfunctions in mobile surveillance, since transits have many cameras on many vehicles. To help avoid this problem, modern surveillance systems report the health of the components to transit agencies. “A lot of times hard drives may fail,” says Richie Howard, president/CEO of AngelTrax. “The client needs to know in advance, before they have an incident.”
The move to higher-quality video requires reliable hard drives. To accommodate transit agencies, which often require 30 days of backup for their footage, AngelTrax currently provides one-terabyte hard drives and will soon provide two-terabyte hard drives for mobile surveillance, and they also have moved to using only solid-state hard drives, which have no moving parts. “Solid-state drives are not as susceptible to vibration, not as susceptible to heat or cold, so they’re more reliable,” says Howard.
For REI, the physical durability of the equipment is a major focus. The company tests products at extreme temperatures and during vigorous movement. This makes sure transit agencies can use the products in hot or cold conditions and recover footage after extreme events.
“We have our product in Merced, Calif., and some people actually stole a transit bus,” says Routh. “They ripped the DVR system off the wall, covered it in gasoline, lit it on fire and left it in the road as a way to destroy the evidence, but when the authorities found the DVR, they were able to pull out our hard drive and plug it into a computer and all the video was there . . . If you’re going to spend the money, you want to make sure the video’s there when you need it.”
Monitor drivers, customers
Surveillance solutions are increasingly being integrated with other systems to improve safety. Systems can be used to monitor driver behavior and reduce incidents by making passengers aware that they’re being monitored. Many systems incorporate sensors such as accelerometers, which track when the bus brakes suddenly or turns at high speed. Surveillance systems can automatically record unusual events of this type and flag them, or automatically download them. This can give agencies valuable information about the performance of their drivers.
AngelTrax’s driver monitoring system scores driver behavior using computer algorithms and reports the best and worst drivers to transit agencies. Drivers log in using RFID, so the system shows which driver was driving the bus, in addition to tracking the vehicle itself. The AngelTrax algorithm-driven system has proven to be a great predictor of driver behavior and can help transit agencies avoid accidents, according to Howard.
Some systems offer the option of making surveillance footage visible to passengers on public view monitors. This can reduce incidents by making troublesome passengers aware that they are being recorded, and increases transparency because the surveillance is visible to passengers. Notbohm says this is becoming more common, and can be very effective.
“We found that some of the transit agencies have said that their crime rate just dropped significantly as soon as they put those monitors on board,” he says.
All the surveillance companies expect to expand camera options, working on new hybrid and full HD systems to respond to the needs of transit agencies. They also plan to work on effectively integrating new types of technology to better serve transit agencies.
“Some feedback I hear from transits is that over time as they addressed specific needs they would work with technology companies to develop a specific component to fill that specific need, but over time, there ends up being a lot of technology overlap,” says Routh. “Adding these components over time, has resulted in a bit of a bird’s nest of technology. What REI is doing with all of our software and technology going forward is to unravel that bird’s nest and provide an efficient solution for transit.”