by Jeff Montoya, Eastern Regional Sales Director, IDIS America

Video analytics (VA) have evolved in sophistication significantly in recent years. They provide end users with a greater understanding of the activities on their premises and are fast becoming standard in video surveillance devices and solutions. The rapid evolution of video analytics has also given way to the growing development and adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and deep learning technologies in security applications. Capable of tapping into other information facilitated by sensors, including people counting, identity management, and heat mapping, an AI system can deliver end users much more information than traditional security applications ever could. These data gathering functions enhance operations and provide new value for many end users.

Despite those benefits, cost remains for some one of the main stumbling blocks for AI adoption. Processing power is also another challenge. Initial solutions required complex server-based set ups, which put them out of reach of most organizations. Fortunately, price points are continuing to come down as new AI functionality becomes accessible through some existing VMS solutions, cloud-based applications and AI-enabled cameras. This, coupled with the fact that vendors are presenting clearer and more concise applications that address everyday challenges, is allowing increasingly more end users to leverage the benefits of AI capabilities.

According to The Hill, AI has been steadily on the rise, going from $12 billion in 2017 to a projected $60 billion in 2021. But that projection will very likely increase exponentially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapid spread of the virus will inevitably trigger many enterprises – many of which are losing exorbitant amounts of revenue - to replace humans as a factor of production or to support new processes and procedures. Machines can’t be infected by the virus and therefore wouldn’t put a halt to production, disrupt the food and medical supply chain, or other manufacturing and logistics processes. They also don’t need to socially distance.

Health guidelines dictating that people maintain a 6 foot distance apart from each other are impacting so many facets of our daily lives, both personally and professionally. Everyday function as simple as going to the grocery store now require guards at the entrances to space people apart and admit a limited number of shoppers at a time. Many companies won’t be able to sustain the cost of guards, additional security staff or redeploy employees to enforce social distancing over a long period of time. It’s expensive. The automation of processes via analytics will surely be an attractive, more affordable solution.

There will undoubtedly be a surge in demand for simpler, more cost-effective heat mapping and people counting to ensure social distancing – be that in retail, warehousing/distribution centers, schools and universities, public gathering places and the list goes on and on. Organizations can consider video management software with new AI functionality and look to leverage the surveillance investment they already as well as using a simple add-on. Simple devices such as people counting and heat mapping appliances, for instance, offer many benefits. In addition to helping to enforce social distancing, they can provide insights to define marketing and operational strategies, and data to inform key business decisions. In-demand capabilities will likely include passive staff detection, dwell time measuring and the ability to connect multiple units to cover wide openings.

Many end users are already employing simple but cost-effective ‘blob’ type analytics, which typically includes images, audio or other multimedia objects, and appliances to meet their operational requirements. These are now commonplace in many applications, as analytics cameras and plug-and-play appliances have proven cost-effective and easy to deploy.

To even better leverage the benefit of AI in a COVID and post COVID-19 world, the onus is on manufacturers and systems integrators to help customers understand their biggest pain points and challenges. SI’s should explain to their customers how they can operate more efficiently, while continuing to reduce risks, increase safety, and meet compliance and duty of care requirements.

Although customers have rapidly adopted onboard analytics, they can deliver false positives in the control room caused by weather or other environmental factors. This can get problematic, especially for large sties as it can lead to monitoring teams either responding inefficiently to false alarms or simply shutting down alerts altogether, potentially missing critical incidents. 

It’s in these types of environments that deep learning applications are already delivering significant benefits and rapid ROI. Using neural networks and algorithms, they significantly outperform human performance with the capability to analyze vast amounts of data points taken from video footage across single or multiple cameras simultaneously. This allows AI applications to first detect and then identify an event or threat, while filtering out false alarms and, in turn, making first responders far more efficient and ensuring critical incidents are never missed.

Especially important in battling the spread of COVID-19 is the ability to combine facial recognition and fever detection AI. Thermal cameras have been deployed for a while now to try to detect people with fever. Cameras equipped with AI-based multi-sensory technology are being used in myriad facilities including airports, hospitals, nursing homes, etc. The technology can automatically detects people with an elevated body temperate, track their movements, recognize their faces, and detect whether they are wearing a face mask. And intelligent drones and robots are being deployed increasingly more to monitor adherence to the strict social distancing measures required to curb the spread of the virus. To further enforce compliance, some drones are being used to track people not wearing facemasks in public, while still others are being employed to broadcast information to large gatherings of people. Some are actually even being used to disinfect public spaces!

But thermal imaging and facial recognition can only be deployed where users are willing to sacrifice privacy, while at the same time organizations need to recognize that these technologies are only a first line of defence. Thermal imaging cameras come with accuracy limitations, plus a raised body temperature does not automatically signal an infection. Plus, those infected with COVID-19 are very often asymptomatic and could well be infectious long before they develop a fever, meaning increased testing and varying levels of social distancing is likely to be in place for some time to come.    

Yet the value of and applications for Artificial Intelligence will inevitably continue to expand in response to battling COVID-19. While nothing can ever replace the value of human intelligence and decision-making, having AI in the arsenal can surely aid in the fight and help in winning the war on this invisible enemy.

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