It's an 802.11 Video System, Mr. Bond

By Gerry Blackwell

February 01, 2002

802.11 technology is opening up exciting new areas for video monitoring products that could play a huge role in homeland security.

Homeland security has suddenly become a hot button and security technology companies like Norcross GA-based Axcess Inc. (www.axcess.com) are hoping it produces a bonanza.

WLAN systems integrators might be able to grab a piece of the action too if they learn how to deploy innovative Wi-Fi-enabled remote video monitoring systems from Axcess - or develop their own.

Axcess is making a big play for the growing homeland security market, as well as targeting other sectors, with its new 802.11b-based video security solution, the $1,000 LANconnect-SW.

The product takes feeds from standard video cameras, digitizes and compresses the signal, stores the results on a hard drive and pumps out streaming video over an 802.11b wireless network on demand.

Axcess has had products in the past that let operators stream video over a wired network - including the LANcam, a TCP/IP-addressable digital video camera.

The new product will let facility managers put cameras in more, and more remote, locations without having to worry about installing Ethernet cabling, says vice president of video engineering Tim Simerly.

Eventually the company hopes to bring to market an integrated product with an inexpensive CMOS-based digital video imager and PCMCIA Wi-Fi card in one unit. All it will need to start streaming video over the air is power.

"The best case is that it will be summer before we're even ready to embark on that project," Simerly cautions. "And it will probably end up being late this year. A lot depends on feedback from customers."

In the meantime, the Axcess solution uses any existing security camera. The LANconnect-SW, which incorporates an 802.11b bridge, comes in two versions. One takes standard video and stereo audio feeds from two cameras, the other from four. An eight-port version is under development.

An airport, for example, could set up hundreds of cameras connected to LANconnect units to monitor restricted areas, and stream video back to a central command post. Or it could stream video on to the Internet and then to a remote site.

Another recent Axcess product makes the concept even more compelling. The company developed WindowsCE software for a Wi-Fi-equipped PocketPC that can receive video and display it on its high-resolution color LCD.

The Axcess software allows the user to select the camera from which the device receives video. As long as the user is within range of a Wi-Fi access point, he can receive video from any of the cameras in the facility.

For example, the manager in a big-box store could carry one of the wireless-enabled PocketPCs and keep an eye on the cash lines while he's out on the loading dock, Simerly suggests.

Or security personnel on foot patrol in an airport or other sensitive facility could carry a PocketPC and receive alerts - including video feeds - anywhere they go.

The real core of Axcess's intellectual property is the technology that lets its video security systems generate alerts based on events detected in the audio-video stream from the camera. It's crucial to the way the systems work, Simerly explains.

"The facility could have hundreds of cameras," he points out. "You don't want to swamp the user with unnecessary information. You want to send only the pertinent data."

So Axcess developed software and algorithms that analyze digitized audio-video content and allow its systems to reliably detect altered states or events in a monitored zone.

It could be a gun shot, lights going on or off, a human presence, car headlights, even the loss of visibility in a security camera - if somebody spray-painted the lens, for example - or walking figures suddenly breaking into a run.

When one of these events triggers an alert, the system could be programmed to simply send an e-mail or a coded phone message to a mobile phone. But it could also automatically start streaming video from the affected area to multiple viewers, including Wi-Fi-enabled PocketPCs.

This would allow personnel sent to investigate a security breach to reconnoiter the area as they move towards it, which would improve safety and give them vital information to help make better decisions.

If the LANconnect unit has a hard-disk, the system continually captures and stores compressed video - for weeks or months given a big enough disk and aggressive enough compression.

So security personnel could not only see real-time video from an affected area, they could also request a replay of what the camera saw a minute or two minutes before - and receive it instantly.

If the Axcess technology sounds slightly James Bond-ish, it's probably because it is. But the company also knows that given volume buying of componentry and volume manufacturing, this technology could easily be built into much cheaper systems designed for smaller users, even home owners.

"We see that happening," says Simerly. But not soon.

"We're a fairly small company," he explains. "We don't have the purchasing power or manufacturing base - though we hope to be able to partner with a large manufacturer. For now, it's a business-to-business proposition."

Could video security - Big Brother watching - be a killer app for Wi-Fi? Maybe. It's expensive to run Ethernet cabling to remote, little-used areas so WLANs would make sense.

And think of all the facilities that could monitor more easily and at less expense if they implemented such as system.



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