Jeff Kitching, ADPRO Sales Director, encourages the security industry to give Video Motion Detection another look.
Video Motion Detection (VMD), three words that arrived on the scene in the late 1980s to herald the start of a detection revolution. Only the hype did not quite match the reality.
Much was written at the time and subsequently about the potential for VMD. It was, we were told, not just an alternative to PIRs, fence vibration systems and other detection technologies, but it actually took the art of detection to new levels. It was incomparable.
Initially, the enthusiasm amongst installers and end-users alike was matched only by the enthusiasm of manufacturers who seemed to suddenly fill the marketplace in an attempt to seize the ‘opportunity' before someone else got there. Baxall, Vision Systems, Digi-Spec, Primary Image, Gueterbrück, to name a few, were all names fast to appear, and equally fast to claim the rights to VMD ‘space'. But then it all started to go wrong.
End-users began to experience unacceptable levels of false alarms. The time to install VMD systems - and particularly the fine-tuning and commissioning - was taking to long, and there was an overall impression that the cost simply was not worth the grief that went with it. The unit price alone - when compared to other detection technologies in the dealer catalogues - was seemingly to high to justify.
The manufacturers thought the installers at fault, the installers the manufacturers. Manufacturers tried to suggest that the systems were either poorly installed or not set up properly, and consequently failed to perform as intended. The installers believed that the respective systems' capabilities may have been over-stated, and were unnecessarily overcomplicated to install. They also pointed out that there was little or nothing in the way of support either before, during or after installation.
The marketers and the press also played their part. Some manufacturers started building in ‘activity detection' into multiplexers and Digital Video Recorders as an elementary form of VMD. Unfortunately, they were often used in the wrong applications, typically externally where the sun, wind and rain would trigger continual false alarms, and the media were quickly on the case with their condemnation.
In reality, and to be fair, all interested parties had a point. Some of the earliest technologies were over-complicated to install, but some installers were also using the technology inappropriately, in the wrong applications. Nuisance alarms from flying birds, or at night from moths flying to close to the cameras were a constant headache. Even cameras mounted on long poles, swaying in the wind would trigger an alarm, but was that the fault of the technology, or was it the fault of poor design and installation? The jury is out.
Given the history, why now should an installer look at the issue of Video Motion Detection?
From a technical perspective, most Video Motion Detection technologies are considerably more advanced than they were a decade ago. Arguably, perhaps, they are now genuinely capable of achieving the levels of performance claimed a decade or more ago. Smarter algorithms have made them more powerful and more capable of filtering out such things as car headlights, tree shadows, snow, rain, even the reflection of water from puddles, all of which could have previously triggered a false alarm. Target sizing is similarly more accurate: cats, birds, rabbits and other small mammals can be easily discriminated and ignored, and alarms generated by camera shake and scene wobbles can similarly be rejected.
Advances in technology have also helped in terms of ease of installation. Quick set-up features are now the norm, typically with a smaller number of parameters to be taken into consideration. Connectivity with other devices is also much easier. ADPRO to ADPRO, for example, is a straightforward Ethernet connection; ADPRO to third-party technologies is equally easy via contact outputs and a series of interfaces.
Ease of installation has meant that the cost of install has dramatically fallen, because the speed of set up and commissioning is that much faster. The benefit of a VMD system over, say, a PIR, is that the VMD can be (largely) set up inside. Yes, a walk test is required, but if this is recorded and then replayed from the system for each camera, then this can be done without having to battle the elements come wind, rain or shine!
Unit costs have also fallen, again as a result of the march of technology. The approximate cost per unit today is the same as the cost per unit 15 years ago, so it is commensurately (when the cost of inflation is factored in) considerably less. The installer is still able to command a higher sale value, however, since the overall site installation costs are similar to using multiple PIRs.
One of the real advantages of Video Motion Detection today is the help it gives in delivering a BS8418 compliant installation. BS8418, as we all know, requires that detection must be in the view of the camera; since VMD only detects from the view of the camera, then compliance is by definition automatic. Not so for PIRs.
Of course there are still environments in which Video Motion Detection is ideally suited: the space between two fences on a perimeter, for example, protecting a prison or military installation, where there is little in the way of undergrowth, or movement from passers-by or vehicles. But that is not to say that VMD is not as appropriate in more everyday scenarios. VMD is about ‘volumetric' detection: whatever a camera sees, it will detect. With technology such as it is, trees and other incumbents can be easily masked out if they are in the field of view to prevent false alarming. VMD can also detect the direction of movement of a target so people leaving a building can be ignored, if the requirement is to know who is approaching
Video Motion Detection has historically been frowned upon in the UK. Conversely, in Europe and the Middle East in particular, the demand for VMD has quite literally exploded. Why this might be is difficult to decide. It might be that installers on the Continent and further a field have a greater understanding of system design, although this would sound harsh against our home-grown talent! More likely, perhaps, is that they are still relatively early adopters and see the value in the product as it stands, without any preconceived ideas or prejudices.
But for the UK, is VMD now simply back to where it should have been ten years ago, or has it been taken to a new level? Manufacturers will claim that the base product today is considerably more advanced than it used to be, and companies such as Vision Fire & Security with its new ADPRO Presidium are designing systems with clear paths to future development.
VMD technologies are now more reliable, and in many cases better suited than other detection technologies in particular applications. Fence vibration systems, for example, do not detect vehicles entering a site. That may sound obvious, but PIR detectors are similarly unreliable against vehicles when the heat source of the individuals inside is being masked by the lack of heat from the vehicle they are in. VMD also offers other benefits over PIRs. PIRs have to be seen; they cannot be disguised. VMD is discreet.
Help is at hand
Whatever the advances in technology, however, the systems are only ever as good as the people who install them, and this is probably the greatest breakthrough of all. Installers are not on their own. In the past, some manufacturers would not let you buy their kit without signing up for their training; others would insist that they would be responsible for installing the system themselves, with the message to you of ‘hands-off''. In a way, both had elements of merit, but what is really required is a manufacturer's support, not once the system is installed, but from the outset. This means starting with assistance in design, including site visits with the installers, working in partnership together. Yes of course training is a value-add, but so too is providing a commissioning service to help installers fine-tune the technology to meet the design specification. Manuals, full documentation, information on the web are also essential, but so too the knowledge that if the installer does have an issue, help and advice is only a phone call away.
Many manufacturers have learned the lessons, and instigated new approaches. They recognise the problems of the past, and have taken steps to address them. They have looked at their technology, and brought forward to the market new products that overcome most - if not all - of the barriers to take-up that had earlier blighted VMD's success. Although more sophisticated, in many respects VMDs are more straightforward to comprehend than before, and certainly easier to install. And even if there is an issue, help is never far away. Perhaps now is the time to take another look at VMD with an open mind.