How Network Cameras can Improve Smart City Living

Network cameras could also enable new applications in commerce, entertainment and tourism, especially when coupled with mobile and location-based technologies

Network video cameras are used in many cities across the globe for traffic monitoring, surveillance and other security needs. They have increasingly replaced analog CCTV as the go-to, future-proof technology. However, their potential extends well beyond simple surveillance tasks. As the Internet of Things comes to life, there are numerous other scenarios where network cameras could help improve the way smart cities function, and the way people live, travel and work.

Potential use cases range from city information systems – where the cameras become an essential component of a central operation center for a variety of city services related to safety and security, energy, health, traffic, and transportation – to sustainable urban planning to environmental solutions that monitor air quality, noise levels, and UV radiation. Network cameras could also enable new applications in commerce, entertainment and tourism, especially when coupled with mobile and location-based technologies.

A few examples of possible smart city applications are detailed below:

Virtual city with real-time 3D maps
Tourists and citizens alike want to know about events, traffic issues, and perhaps crowded areas to avoid. Three-dimensional virtual city models delivered to their mobile phones could provide the necessary information in a handy way, in real time. Thanks to augmented reality technology, network cameras can be used as intelligent sensors at strategic points throughout the city. Advanced software can produce a 3D map with several layers of live information, including live video footage. Application areas for such ‘living’ maps can range from safety and security to industrial, health, educational, entertainment and advertising purposes.

Better communication with citizens
Municipalities have to keep a growing population updated with what is happening in the city, and to this end they need smarter tools to communicate with citizens in cases of potential threats or dangers, or to inform residents in real time when there are problems in certain city areas. With screens installed in main locations such as squares or train stations, and based on information fed through from network cameras, authorities can display important messages that alert people of potentially dangerous or problematic situations, and give guidance on the best actions to take.

Improving citizen satisfaction

Many people now carry a smartphone wherever they go. A mobile app with GPS-based location information could enable citizens to report malfunctioning or inefficient services on the go – overflowing bins perhaps, or broken street lights. City authorities can verify the reported issues using their network of installed video cameras and decide on the best and quickest way to resolve the problem. They can also keep citizens updated on progress by pushing information back to the same app. Such a system would allow residents to give feedback about city services provided by municipalities, and improve the quality of life for everyone relying on these services.

Making the most of social media feeds

Social media such as Facebook and Twitter are already crucial sources of information for police forces, the media, and other users who may be affected by the same reported issue, especially during incidents both small and large. Once city authorities have been alerted to an occurrence via keywords trending in social media, network video allows them to gather visual feedback instantly, locate the problem, monitor the situation, and verify its importance. Ultimately, combining the content posted on social networks with data gathered by network video cameras, intelligent sensors and other IT applications allows authorities to tap into big data to gain a better understanding of what is happening on a day-to-day basis, and how to respond to it.

Tracking and finding missing items
Keys, wallets, phones, laptops and bikes are amongst the items that most commonly go missing in a city every day, either because their owners lose them or because they are stolen. Citizens and police would benefit from a system capable of tracking these objects. Such a system is thinkable – using sensors and GPS technology, which can locate the item in question. Network cameras can provide the necessary video support and allow police forces or city officials to conduct a more detailed investigation.

Remote escort for pedestrians

Dark passages or parks at night can be dangerous places. To protect citizens in situations where they have to travel through such areas, and make them feel safer, authorities could offer a mobile app that connects users directly from their smartphones to the city surveillance system. An integrated alarm call function forms a direct link to police operators, and the combination of location data and network cameras with intelligent lighting allows the operator in the control room to track the citizen’s movements and actions and escort them safely through potentially dangerous areas.

Drones monitoring

We are seeing more and more drones – near collisions with planes have already been reported. Some of these devices may be used for malicious purposes, such as spying or carrying dangerous goods, and need to be monitored remotely. Network cameras can be used to track and monitor drones at a range up to 100 meters, day and night, and to help protect sensitive sites such as industrial facilities or office buildings from approaching drones. They can provide real-time alerts and identify potential threats, even if these are several hundred feet above ground.

Tackling unsafe working reduces accidents

Network video cameras can be used to monitor construction sites, road works and other potentially dangerous working environments, in order to avoid accidents and prevent unauthorized access. They can also monitor in real time the safety conditions of a hazardous site and trigger alarm signals when a worker implements a behavior that may be dangerous for his safety and the safety of others.

Improving pedestrian and cyclist safety

When it comes to smart road management systems, improving the safety of cyclists and pedestrians crossing streets is a key focus. Using bright warning lights, playing recorded messages or implementing a physical barrier can be simple but effective solutions for informing approaching drivers that pedestrians or cyclists are about to cross the street, especially in low visibility conditions. This could help significantly reduce the number of accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists, making the city streets safer for both citizens and tourists.

Parking management

Finding a parking space in a busy inner city area can be a nightmare. A system based on network cameras, video analytics and vehicle counting can provide reliable real-time updates on available parking spaces. The information can be delivered to drivers through a mobile app, which can also calculate the fastest route to the nearest vacant parking space based on the driver’s current location. The same setup can be used to manage disabled parking spaces, ensuring that they are only used by those with disabilities, and that pathways are free so the disabled spaces can be accessed.

There are many more potential application areas for video cameras when they are connected to other sensors, information systems and data analytics solutions as part of a smart city network. While they will always play an important role in monitoring crime, protecting infrastructures, and efficiently responding to emergency situations, perhaps it is time to think outside the traditional security box and find new application areas where network cameras have the potential to make a significant difference to the quality of urban living.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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