Recent advancements in the world of mobile surveillance are helping transportation agencies expand their functionality and cut long-term costs in the process. Among them are increased camera placement on board vehicles, DVR improvements, better wireless connectivity and the development of information systems for video monitoring.
Not only are manufacturers finding new ways to build a more fluid relationship between these key components of successful mobile surveillance, they're making user-friendliness a stronger priority as well. But because new technology emerges almost every day, it's important to stay abreast of the latest trends and products to determine which investments will better benefit your fleet.
High quality has already become the industry standard for mobile surveillance cameras. Today, a range of digital recorders are available for transit vehicles; agencies can hand-select lens type, camera size and shape. And as audiovisual technology continues to improve, almost all cameras can produce DVD-quality video and contain infrared capabilities to monitor evening routes.
But with camera quality under control, surveillance manufacturers are now shifting their focus toward quantity. Whereas in the past transit agencies could install a maximum of three to four cameras inside a single bus, current systems now allow for as many as 16. They can be positioned on both the bus' interior and exterior as well.
The increase is primarily attributed to recent advancements in hard drive technology, according to Rodell Notbohm, GM of Woodinville, Wash.-based Apollo Video Technology. The hard drive disks used within mobile surveillance systems have gotten larger, making it possible to record more footage at once while still maintaining the necessary video quality and recording retention.
"Typically transits will want to hold their video for at least two weeks to a month, or even longer," Notbohm says. "When hard drives are smaller, even if you wanted more cameras, you wouldn't really have the space to store its footage and that was the big problem."
The information gathered by mobile surveillance is most commonly used for crime deterrence and accident mitigation. And, investing in more cameras equals better coverage. This not only prevents lasting damage, but also allows transit agencies to save money in the long run, according to Notbohm.
"You save money in the discovery — it doesn't take six months to conduct an investigation. If there's an accident or crime, everything that happened anywhere on or near the bus will have been recorded," he says.
Since there are more cameras on board, companies now have the ability to also monitor driver behavior and road safety, answering questions like: Is my driver running red lights? Are vehicles violating the bus' stop arm?
Now, cameras can be placed on the outside of a bus or looking out the driver's windshield. With eight, 12 or 16 cameras on board, you can monitor these unconventional areas without sacrificing vehicle hotspots.
Placing cameras outside a bus isn't a new development, but a growing concern. And, it heavily ties in to the current industry trend of expanding camera placement, according to Chris Shigley, national sales manager for Omaha, Neb.-based Radio Engineering Industries Inc. (REI).
A 360-degree view around the entire vehicle provides transit agencies a chance to observe what goes on around their buses with more accuracy. This includes watching exit and entry points and even something as detailed as the license plates of vehicles, either in front of or behind the bus.
Companies have become efficient in working with different kinds of space as well. Even smaller buses can be equipped with 12 or 16 cameras.
"With our video devices, we have the capability to get a certain view basically with no matter what vehicle we're working with; that's one of the best things we do from a company standpoint," says Shigley. "We adjust knowing that there are limitations when it comes to vehicles and are prepared for customers to request different things and have their own unique preferences." [PAGEBREAK]
DVR improvements, wireless
Wireless technology came into the picture nearly five years ago. But in the past 12 months, it has gained a lot more momentum.
Every digital video recording (DVR) system sold in the market now includes at least Wi-Fi upload capability. Some systems are even moving toward incorporating cellular network access, so clients can get information from a vehicle any time it's on route.
Compression performance, bandwidth and the speed of cellular wireless links have all increased significantly in the past year, making it easier to transfer more data at one time.
Currently, video surveillance manufacturers are also looking to expand their wireless connectivity to a 4G network. 4G solutions provide even faster upload of video clips and higher-quality live video streaming. This will increase the overall performance speed and information flow for transit supervisors as well as law enforcers.
Wireless networks have more integration now with the back-end software used to sift through camera footage, saving the end user a lot of hassle. Rather than manually removing the hard drive from bus' cameras and taking it to a docking station, the footage automatically uploads — via a wireless connection — into the computer when a driver pulls back into the bus yard.
Some mobile surveillance systems, such as those manufactured by Canada-based Seon Design, also come equipped with an "event" button. The driver can press if he notices a problem on board, says Peter Simmons, director of marketing with Seon Design. It marks that specific spot on the video in real-time as it is recording. Companies set up their back-end system to automatically download these clips once the bus has returned to the yard; this convenient procedure can't be done without a reliable Wi-Fi connection.
The majority of manufacturers are also tracking GPS data to connect where a bus is on a map with its correlated audio and video. According to Apollo's Notbohm, this makes video surveillance a lot less expensive operationally. You can troubleshoot problems more quickly when you know where a bus is and what's going on. This is a significant plus for both small and large transit agencies.
Plus, new DVR systems like AngelTrax's Hybrid Component Wireless DVR help manage costs with low-maintenance upgrading and longer lifespans. Clients can upgrade their systems without replacing the entire unit, which results in a five- rather than two-year life, according to AngelTrax President Richie Howard.
Also, certain companies, like Apollo Video, are releasing solid-state drives for video recorders. Solid-state drives are a growing trend and a major technological improvement in the industry — they are essentially hard drives without spinning disks. Solid state drives have no moving parts and are therefore more likely to survive road trauma, such as bumps, shocks or accidents. Although costly, the device guarantees a longer lifespan.
"As engineers make the memory bigger and bigger, I believe solid-state drives will take over the market for video systems probably within the next five to 10 years," says Notbohm. "The goal is to supply transit agencies with durable equipment and compatibility throughout the lifetime of their fleets."[PAGEBREAK]
Information management software, which manages the footage that comes from onboard cameras, has become a pinnacle of advancement in the mobile surveillance world. Today's video management software is operationally efficient enough to deploy fleet wide, even in very large transit environments.
Its biggest evolution, however, has been its overall simplicity to its complexity, says REI's Shigley. For being such advanced programs, these info systems have become increasingly user-friendly and intuitive, and almost all providers are working toward making them even friendlier.
Seon Design's newly launched program, the vMax View, aims at making the look and feel of the graphical user interface more welcoming and less like a strictly technical database. Seon also comes out with new and improved features for the vMax View continuously, allowing customers to do things like employ the wireless connection to track a bus' speed and location, fast-forward and rewind footage, make video archives and blur out bystanders' faces for privacy purposes.
Apollo is also updating their existing systems to incorporate new technologies and make the overall experience better for the end user. Version 3.0 of Apollo's VIN software includes a clip management module. This allows customers to categorize clips so they're easy to locate, put notes and comments on certain clips, and mark what incidents happened on a particular vehicle.
"At this point, I think what all the companies are going to add is additional functionalities to the back end to make it easier to monitor what you want and for more people to utilize it for even more purposes," says Notbohm.
Countless programs also include health modules, where the system on your computer receives the health information of the video system on board a bus. This lets supervisors know if a vehicle is or isn't operating properly. Since many transit agencies don't allow buses to operate if their video isn't working, knowing sooner saves time for both the agency and the customers.
Most programs on the market also support file sharing. The system helps supervisors send around video clips effortlessly.
"Just to give you an idea, if someone that's reviewing the video footage finds something that's relevant to someone in a different department, they can also send them a link to where they can see the video, or they can email them the actual video clip," says April Johnson, director of marketing and communications for Apollo Video.
Angeltrax's program, called MotoLINX, addresses the need for clients to choose which kinds of clips they want to auto-download. They have designed software that can cater to specific needs. Customers tell the system to track components such as a bus' idle time, over speed, G-force and stop arm violation. Once the customer chooses, those components are automatically reported and downloaded while MotoLINX builds the file system database to store the clips for the user's easy access.
REI's engineering team has designed their program, Armor, to work in a similar way. It manages the sorting and searching of specific preconfigured data. The software proactively monitors certain things — such as excessive speed — and puts them in front of the agency on a daily basis. REI also places a large focus on simplicity and usability of their interface.
"The more simple we make it to use, and the easier we make the user interface to interact with, the more value our customers are going to get out of our system," says REI's Shigley. "And, that's one of the key concerns we've done with continued releases of our playback software."