Video Surveillance

It’s Not Sci-fi: How Augmented Reality Enhances Surveillance

Video surveillance has advanced considerably over the past decade. Cameras can now capture video in higher resolutions than ever, providing viewers with a clearer scene of what is happening on the ground. They have gotten smarter, too – the advent of modern video analytics has enabled security teams to train surveillance cameras to recognize the difference between an intruder and a deer, automatically identify the license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles, and detect specific noises like breaking glass, gunshots, and raised voices. The surveillance cameras of today have capabilities that eclipse traditional analog cameras by leaps and bounds.

Augmented reality (AR) is helping cameras to grow even more advanced. No longer a technology confined to science fiction novels, AR is enabling the ability to display relevant information over a live video feed, and it is becoming an increasingly important element of video surveillance.

While the technology has obvious uses for groups like security teams, law enforcement and first responders, AR is already demonstrating a much broader range of potential applications, providing clear value across a host of different industries.

Understanding Augmented Reality

Over the past several years, both augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) have received a growing amount of attention from both technology experts and the public at large. While they might appear similar at first glance, the two technologies have considerably different applications.

Virtual reality is most commonly experienced through a headset that provides the viewer with a first-person view of a virtual environment, completely obscuring the real word around the wearer. In contrast, augmented reality is overlaid atop a real environment. This overlay might come in the form of text, images, or other information, and be displayed on a phone, glasses, or other device.

Because VR provides the illusion of being in a different environment, much of its success has come in the world of video games. By contrast, AR has the potential for much more practical applications, some of which are already available to consumers, such as Google Translate’s ability to provide easy translations for foreign street signs.

This means that AR has considerable potential as a consumer technology. It is not difficult to envision a world where smart glasses can overlay directions on actual streets, or automatically display restaurant reviews or menus when walking by these establishments. Such technology could even be integrated with fitness bands or other health monitors to create a video game-like heads-up display (HUD) for the user’s convenience.

In effect, AR is an “insight superpower,” providing valuable information layered atop what the viewer is actually seeing and hearing, with little manual input needed. Intelligently programmed AR technology can significantly augment the amount of information that users can receive from their environment at just a glance.

Still, while the underlying technology has become highly advanced, adoption is just beginning to take root as users look to find practical, functional uses for AR. Today’s AR deployments focus primarily on its video surveillance potential, but as the technology grows, so too will its everyday applications.

AR Video Surveillance Applications

While AR has the potential for a wide range of consumer-facing applications, it truly shines as a tool to enhance video surveillance capabilities. This is not surprising – even the oldest camcorders had HUD overlays for battery life, time of day, and other valuable information. What makes AR different is that the information it is capable of displaying adapts and reacts to the pictured environment, adding graphical overlays that are actually responsive.

Consider first responders, often tasked with racing into strange buildings with unknown layouts. The ability to help firefighters by overlaying the layout of the building – including its entrances, emergency exits, and stairwells – can not only improve their ability to do their jobs, but also hasten the evacuation of the building and potentially save lives. Similarly, the ability to show law enforcement officers evacuation routes and danger areas can help them safely disperse crowds amid dangerous incidents, keeping people out of harm’s way and reducing the risk of escalation.

This information might be displayed and managed remotely, within a control room featuring live video monitors, or locally on the mobile devices belonging to the users themselves. Either way, it puts critical information in the hands of those who need it most.

This technology is poised to continue to advance and evolve. Police officers could benefit from overlaying data from local surveillance cameras, body-worn cameras, or location data. This information could be transmitted directly to the officer, highlighting a direct route to the location of a 9-1-1 caller to reduce response time.

EMTs and other medical personnel could benefit from knowing the location of the nearest defibrillator in an unknown building, or from video feeds that can provide a more complete picture of what is happening at the scene, helping them better prepare for what they might find. While first responders are far from the only group that can benefit from the technology, they highlight an important point: AR is not just about convenience. It can save lives.

AR’s Broader Implications and Uses

Surveillance cameras are often thought of as security tools, which makes law enforcement and first responders obvious candidates to benefit from AR technology; however, it is important to remember that safety and security can have other meanings as well. Consider a chemical or industrial plant using surveillance cameras to monitor conditions in remote or hard-to-reach places. Yes, surveillance is important to prevent trespassers, but AR technology can also overlay data like temperature, air quality, and smoke or chemical detection.

This could allow security teams to detect an otherwise-invisible gas or chemical leak, or identify a tank in the process of overheating before it can reach critical levels. Those tasked with fixing those issues can also benefit from an AR HUD capable of displaying diagrams, schematics, and other useful information while keeping their hands free.

These applications have almost universal appeal. Any business can benefit from the ability to map employees to the nearest emergency exit, fire extinguisher or alarm. The ability to generate alerts based on perimeter breaches, suspicious noises or changes in conditions like temperature or background noise can help give security teams a leg up when it comes to timely and appropriate incident response – especially if those alerts can bring live images to video monitors and map out the most direct route to the scene. AR might even trace the path of an intruder through the facility, mapping their route across different camera feeds to ensure that security does not lose track of their location.

Of course, AR applications also extend beyond camera-based functions. As far back as 2015, car manufacturers debuted augmented reality owner’s manual for vehicles, and a number of vehicle manufacturers are experimenting with windshield-based AR displays. Some businesses have also found that AR makes a good training tool, with Walmart, Lowe’s, and others deploying the technology to bring new and existing workers up to speed. Retailers have even begun incorporating AR as a way to bridge the gap between online and in-person shopping, allowing users to virtually try on clothing and other products even when they are not physically present in a store.

These broader applications will only continue to grow as AR evolves. As the technology becomes more mainstream, businesses and organizations will need help identifying which solutions might be right for them. Security-focused applications like intruder detection and tracking might provide the most value, or they may simply be looking for an easy way to educate employees about evacuation routes and safety device locations. Manufacturing facilities might want the ability to identify which machine is making a concerning sound, and chemical plants might want thermal and infrared monitoring.

AR has uses within just about every industry, and the ability to provide valuable expertise on the available solutions and their potential applications will be critical for both manufacturers and integrators moving forward.

Augmented Reality Is the Future

While to many it still sounds like something out of sci-fi movie, AR is becoming increasingly commonplace. Even popular gaming apps like Pokémon Go have gotten in on the fun, demonstrating that overlaying digital information atop the real world can have consumer applications as well.

The technology is no longer strange, or even that uncommon – and as its potential uses continue to multiply, a growing number of businesses will be asking, “what can augmented reality do for me?”

Used in conjunction with modern video surveillance solutions, AR can improve security, safety, and even incident response times. With AR technology, first responders, manufacturers, retailers, and other parties can arm themselves with more complete information than ever. Whether they are looking for the fastest route to a defibrillator amid a medical emergency, the nearest emergency exit in the case of a fire, or just the temperature status of a finicky cooling tank, AR can provide that information – quite literally at a glance.

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