Ambarella is a big player in the video surveillance market, but not a familiar name to many buyers of security cameras. They don’t make cameras, but they make the computer chips inside. Founded in 2004, Ambarella began in the broadcast infrastructure encoders market and entered the market for professional security cameras in 2008. More recently, the company has also entered the market for automotive OEM solutions.

Between 2005 and 2015, the company has produced a progression of advanced camera system on chips (SoCs) designed, developed and mass-produced for the consumer electronics, broadcast and IP camera markets. An SoC includes an image processor as well as capabilities to run software and provide computer vision (analytics).

Development has been happening fast at Ambarella. In January, they introduced the CV22 camera SoC, combining image processing, 4K and 60fps video encoding and computer vision (video analytics) processing in a single, low-power-design chip. CVflow architecture provides DNN (deep neural network) processing required for the next generation of intelligent cameras.

The even newer CV2 camera SoC, introduced in late-March, delivers up to 20 times the deep neural network performance of Ambarella's first generation CV1 chip, also with low power consumption.

I caught up with Chris Day, Ambarella’s vice president of marketing and business development, at the ISC West show to find out more about the company.



Q: Your company is not as well known in the industry as it should be, given its widespread impact on the market. Would you prefer otherwise?

Day: I think we would prefer more visibility. If you talk to any camera maker, they know who we are. We do business with all the top-10 camera companies – Hikvision, Dahua, Avigilon, Pelco and the rest. Because we are a chip supplier, the end-customer deciding to buy a camera may not know what chip is inside. For that reason, we may not have the visibility. But if you are a camera maker, you know who we are.

Development of cameras can take up to nine months
Typically, it takes nine months to develop a camera, longer with an intelligent camera because you are importing so much software


Q: What are you hearing from your camera customers in terms of what they need, and how are they directing where you go with R&D?

Day: We have become a major supplier to those companies based on years of developing image processing – wide dynamic range, low light, and similar features – as well as AVC (advanced) and HEVC (high-efficiency) video encoding. That’s the heritage of our company and why we do business with all these companies. The next treadmill is computer vision – adding the intelligence into the camera. The goal is still being best-in-class in imaging and encoding, but now being best-in-class in adding the intelligence and being able to do all those things with very low power, within the “thermal budget” of the camera. That’s the next big wave.



Q: How far away is that in terms of the end-customer? How soon will he or she be able to reap the benefits?

Day: By the end of 2018, or maybe next year. We’re just beginning to sample the CV22, for instance, which is the first SoC directed to security cameras. Typically, it takes nine months to develop a camera, maybe longer with an intelligent camera because you are importing so much software. So, we’re talking about the end of this year or next year.



Q: Tell me about your current products and the next generation.

Day: The CV22 is sampling this quarter. CV2 we announced [in late March], which is a high-performance chip. The idea is that we provide our customers with different price/performance points, so they can produce a family of cameras with different capabilities. They have the same basic software model, so someone can invest in software once and then have different performance points without completely rewriting the software. That’s key. They might have 100 software engineers developing neural networks and all the features, so if you have to recreate that at different price points, it’s a lot of work.

Deep neural network chips for video surveillance
Ambarella provides customers with different price/performance points, so they can produce a family of cameras with different capabilities


Q: Historically, video analytics have over-promised and under-delivered. What would you say to a sceptical user in terms of how much confidence they should have in the next wave of products?

Day: Ambarella has been in the security business for 10 years, and some of us have been in the business for 15 years. Every year I’ve been disappointed by the analytics I have seen at the ISC West show. Every year there are incremental improvements – 2 percent, 5 percent, whatever – but in general, I became a sceptic, as well. What is fundamentally different now is the neural network approach to computer vision. Even for us developing these chips: In CV1 we had a certain level of deep neural network performance. We produced CV22 in the same year with four times the performance, and then CV2 has 20 times the performance in the space of one year. That’s just at the chip level. But the neural network approach to analytics and computer vision is game changing if you look at the things you can do with it compared to traditional analytics approaches. If you look at what it’s doing in automotive and security, you will see significant development. I totally appreciate the scepticism, but I think it is completely game-changing at this point, based on the technology in the chips and based on what’s happening with neural networks.



Q: What do you think the next big thing is?

Day: I think the next big thing is the neural networks; it’s the intelligence in the camera. People have been pushing toward higher resolution, we’ve done 4K, we have incredible imaging even in really dark scenes. So we have been solving all those problems. And so now to add the computer vision and be able to do that in parallel with the image processing and high-resolution encoding, and all in a chip that is low-power. That’s the differentiator.



Q: What else is happening?

Jerome Gigot, Senior Director Marketing: There is a lot happening on the consumer side, too, with the home security market. You will see cameras in your home with more and more intelligence. Some are used for video doorbells. On some of the new cameras, we have package notification – you get notified if a package arrives, or if someone steals your package. And new battery-powered cameras are very easy to install with no wires.

Download PDF version

Author profile

Larry Anderson Editor, SecurityInformed.com & SourceSecurity.com

An experienced journalist and long-time presence in the US security industry, Larry is SourceSecurity.com's eyes and ears in the fast-changing security marketplace, attending industry and corporate events, interviewing security leaders and contributing original editorial content to the site. He leads SourceSecurity.com's team of dedicated editorial and content professionals, guiding the "editorial roadmap" to ensure the site provides the most relevant content for security professionals.

In case you missed it

How Internet of Things (IoT) aids facility management and physical security
How Internet of Things (IoT) aids facility management and physical security

As buildings become more complex and smarter, the age-old traditional maintenance methods that are based mostly on hands-on human monitoring are becoming more and more inadequate. Instead, the world is fast adopting building automation as a key component of smarter and more proactive maintenance strategies. The aim is to free up maintenance staff and give them time to focus on other tasks while machines monitor the different systems that work together to make the facility functional. Specifically, Internet of Things - or, IoT - enablement appears set to transform the way facility managers deliver service to building occupants. The trends are many and the possibilities are almost mind-boggling, from inventory management, to work scheduling and energy efficiency, the list goes on and on. Below, we look at a few ways in which IoT is being used for Facility Management and Security. Revolutionise maintenance through condition-based maintenance For years now, the norm among maintenance professionals has been a time-based approach, or in simpler terms, performing maintenance operations after a set period of time. But a major flaw of this system is that components were being replaced periodically whether the parts were actually worn out or not. Of course, that meant some of these maintenance activities simply weren’t cost-effective. To avoid this waste from continuing, a subset of IoT known as IIoT can now be used to optimise the maintenance process. IIoT works as a centralised network of connected systems and devices that can talk to one another and generate and relay data Rather than changing parts on a time-based schedule, IIoT works as a centralised network of connected systems and devices that can talk to one another and generate and relay data. Selected equipment are fitted with sensors that monitor specific operational parameters and let maintenance professionals know how the machines under supervision are working, understand their current condition, and then pinpoint the optimum time they need to be maintained. The information generated this way is vital as it allows maintenance staff to intervene just in time to avoid costly downtime and other associated inconveniences. This is, in a nutshell, the basics of predictive maintenance and condition-based maintenance. These days, by implementing condition-based maintenance, IIoT is being used to effectively monitor a wide range of systems such as lighting, HVAC, fire suppression, security, etc. The applications are numerous and so are the benefits. On page 52 of this guide by the US Department of Energy, they state that a functional predictive maintenance program could yield up to 10 times ROI, reduce maintenance costs by 25% to 30%, and reduce downtime by 35% to 45% Along with fire suppression, IIoT is effectively monitoring a wide range of systems such as lighting, HVAC and security Remote monitoring of facilities Physical inspections have been a critical condition for the success of conventional maintenance programs, even in hazardous environments. But, with the increasing emphasis on personnel safety, organisations want alternative solutions that allow staff to examine assets without being physically present. Facility managers and their team working in industries like manufacturing, oil and gas, and mining can relate with these constraints. And these industries can benefit greatly from deploying predictive maintenance solutions. For example, in the oil and gas industry, IIoT sensors can be used to monitor remote and highly critical assets. These sensors can be used on pipelines to detect anomalies (especially corrosion) and pass that information to supervisors for necessary action. By doing this, potential failures are quickly predicted to avoid often disastrous incidents. Managing energy consumption Sensors are also being embedded in building components and devices like HVAC systems, lights, doors, windows to understand energy consumption and proactively manage it. Facilities that use this technology could achieve substantial energy savings. In a press release by IT research and advisory company, Gartner, they stated that IoT can help reduce the cost of energy - as well as spatial management and building maintenance - by up to 30%. Looking at HVAC systems very closely, we see that they are a major source of energy usage in any building These sensors work by monitoring different conditions in the building and causing a power-saving action based on the data received. For instance, occupancy sensors can order lights to turn on when it senses motion in a room and then turn off the same lights when there is no presence there. That way, there is no need to wait for someone to remember to switch off the lights when they are not needed.   Another very common use is in HVAC monitoring. Looking at HVAC systems very closely, we see that they are a major source of energy usage in any building. So, the issue is how can one use IIoT to manage HVAC and possibly reduce their energy usage? Well, in its most common form, IoT-enabled HVAC works as a connection of sensors and thermostats that monitor factors like indoor air quality, temperature, and environmental changes then communicate with the rest of the HVAC equipment and make needed adjustments for occupants’ comfort. Not only that. IoT-enabled HVAC works as a connection of sensors and thermostats that monitor factors like indoor air quality, temperature, and environmental changes The technology can be configured to: Track energy consumption at different distribution points throughout the building. Track usage from the power source right down to the consumption point. Detect sudden voltage drops or spikes (usually an indication of some fault). These are essential benefits because HVAC units are notorious for consuming large amounts of energy when they are working inefficiently. Security and access control Smart surveillance is another important area of application for IoT in facilities management. It takes several forms such as the monitoring of life-saving systems like intruder or fire alarms, invisible barriers, and other safety installations. Facility managers are using IoT across different industries to obtain live information about potential emergency situations with a view to responding before the issue escalates. In such cases, quick detection of any strange activity is key because many of these installations have tangible negative effects when they fail or when they are intentionally sabotaged.Smart surveillance is another important area of application for IoT in facilities management Fortunately, the surveillance equipment can also be setup to send alerts to mobile phones to aid emergency response or evacuation as the case may be. Smart surveillance is also priceless for monitoring the situation in partially or fully automated remote facilities (especially oil and gas installations and mines), and in hostile environments with critical equipment where humans cannot work for extended periods of time. If you are not yet using IoT in your facility, you may be wondering where to start from. To avoid getting overwhelmed, a good place to start would be to try a small-scale deployment of this technology then review its ROI and impact on your operations before adopting a more widespread IoT implementation. This way you can gradually scale up as you and your staff come to understand and adapt and to this new way of doing things.

Is the physical security industry doing enough to prevent school shootings?
Is the physical security industry doing enough to prevent school shootings?

School shootings continue, as does a search for answers. What solutions are there to prevent school shootings and/or to improve the response (and thus minimise the death toll)?  In the physical security industry, we like to think we have solutions that can help, if not “solve”, the problem, but realistically speaking, how effective are they at the end of the day? We like to think we have solutions that can help, if not “solve”, the problem: but how effective are they at the end of the day? The sad answer – even after dozens of school shootings and even in the wrenching aftermath of the latest one – is that we don’t know. There is a gaping lack of knowledge and research when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of preventative measures as they relate to school shootings. Scarce resources on preventative measures The dearth of knowledge on the subject leaves schools at risk of spending scarce resources on measures that don’t have any real impact, or worse, that have a negative effect on education environments. The natural impulse following a school shooting is to do something – anything – to prevent the tragedy from happening again at any school, but especially at my school. But how is money best spent?Successful businesses are a good thing, but not at the expense of misspending education resources on solutions that don’t solve anything Congress has passed the Stop School Violence Act of 2018 to provide $50 million per year to develop programs to train students, teachers and law enforcement to prevent violence, and to create anonymous reporting systems, such as hot lines, for school violence threats. The bill authorises another $25 million for improvements to school’s physical security infrastructures. Congress also provides $1.1 billion in Title IV block grants, which districts can use to pay for diverse needs such as security systems. Several states are providing additional funding for physical safety measures and campus police, and local districts are also stretching their budgets to address security concerns. But is that money being targeted to measures that will help the situation? What is the role of technology in preventing school violence, and are we as an industry at risk of over-selling our preventative capabilities and diverting money from other measures that might have more impact? Successful businesses are a good thing, but not at the expense of misspending education resources on solutions that don’t solve anything. More metal detectors, armed guards and police officers could cause anxiety in some students and even interfere with the learning process Studies on school safety and protection Researchers, advocates and educators gathered this fall at American University to consider the need for better research to inform decision-making on safety, reported Education Week.The field is in desperate need of more evidence on what works, and schools want this information presented to them" A 2016 study by the Rand Corp. points to the problem: Lack of data and research on what works and what doesn’t. “Despite growth in the school safety-technology sector, rigorous research about the effectiveness of these technologies is virtually non-existent,” according to Rand. “The field is in desperate need of more evidence on what works, and schools want this information presented to them in vetted, digestible ways to help them with procurement.” Jeremy Finn, a professor of education at the University of Buffalo, has pointed out the difficulty of assessing the effectiveness of measures designed to deter events that likely won’t occur anyway. “How do you know when you have deterred a school shooting?” he asks. “It didn’t happen.” The effects on our students  Might technologies aimed at making schools more secure have an adverse effect on the learning environment? More metal detectors, armed guards and police officers could cause anxiety in some students and even interfere with the learning process. The physical security industry should freely acknowledge that the technologies we offer are only part of the solution to school violence Do security measures aimed at preventing active shooting incidents absorb resources that might better be used to address a more general and/or likely security threat such as vandalism or student discipline? Theoretically, security measures in general should help to prevent the probability of an active shooter at the same time they are addressing a wider range of concerns and threats. But do they? At the very least, we in the physical security market should be aware, and should freely acknowledge, that the technologies we offer are only part of the solution to school violence. Schools should take the broadest possible approach to the range of security challenges, and technology should be one tool among many. Furthermore, better data to measure what works is sorely needed to illuminate the best path forward.

How can the physical security market promote better employee retention?
How can the physical security market promote better employee retention?

Employee turnover is a problem for many companies, especially among younger employees who have not developed the philosophy of employer loyalty that was common in previous generations. Nowadays, changing jobs is the norm. The idea of spending decades working for a single employer seems almost quaint in today’s economy. However, excessive employee turnover can be expensive for employers, who are looking for ways to keep their brightest and best employees happily toiling away as long as possible. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: How can the physical security market promote better employee retention in a competitive employment environment?