When you pick up the newspapers today or read online reports, the number of stories on smart cities and the fervour around the subject is simply incredible. To see international governments come forward to share best practices and lend their support to help develop these plans is also very heartening.
The action around smart cities is critical, as cities are referred to as the “engines of economic growth” of any country. With India’s urban population at 31 percent, the pace of urbanisation is said to be speeding up. Experts predict the world’s urban population will double by 2050, which means we are adding the equivalent of seven ‘New Delhi’ cities to the planet every single year, according to the Indian Ministry of Urban Development’s smart cities website.
A smart city, in essence, should be able to provide top-class infrastructure, transportation, energy utilities and security that need to be smarter and driven by technology and automated processes. If creation of jobs, sustainability and standard of living are the three main pillars on which smart cities in India will be built, safety and security of the citizens would probably rank highest.
Intelligent video surveillance and the value it adds
Growing crime rates, increasing terrorist threats, data breaches, monitoring, investments in infrastructure, increasing IT and security spending are boosting the market for video surveillance systems in the Indian market.
The Government of India had set aside Rs. 700 crore in the 2014-15 budget for security and surveillance purposes and added Rs. 1000 crore to the Nirbhaya fund in the 2015-16 budget. It has been made mandatory to install surveillance cameras in educational institutions, pubs and malls, places of historical importance, transport and transport hubs, including railway stations, bus stands, airports, hospitals and restaurants.
The importance of video surveillance particularly made headlines, when the Indian government installed 15,000 CCTV cameras for US President Barack Obama’s visit all over Delhi. Smart Cities will have to go beyond basic monitoring to intelligent and quality video surveillance that is useful in applications such as identifying a number plate on a vehicle in the parking lot, identifying a person, identifying minute details like an object held in a person’s hand, to give a few examples.
Our brain cannot process everything that our eyes see. Research has found that we can only capture 10 percent of all that is seen by our eyes. This is where video analytics plays an important role, which can enable us to see and process 100 percent of our surroundings. With the massive explosion in video data, due to increased video surveillance, implementation will also create unprecedented manageability issues. High-quality video footage will become a necessity as clarity and ease of identification will be of the utmost importance. Both structured and unstructured data will emerge with new video footage. Real-time data processing and analysis will be critical to provide timely insights in order to improve decision making and response times, especially in the field of disaster management.
Video analytics systems can analyse and manage information efficiently through a two-pronged approach. Take the example of traffic monitoring. First, multiple streams of data are received from which the amount of traffic, direction of traffic flow and potential traffic hotspots are deduced – before a huge traffic jam occurs. Next, the analytics system identifies alternate routes to which traffic can be re-directed. Having made this deduction, the analytics system will then alert the authorities about the potential problem and a possible solution to the problem. Relevant conclusions may be arrived at on the basis of the information and insights obtained. Video analytics can automate a major part of the process, leaving authorities to focus on other issues while alerting them before a problem arises.
Apart from traffic management, video analytics can also automate a host of other processes. Using live surveillance video feeds at public places, such as Metro stations, video analytics tools can predict the size of the crowd, where people are heading to and a list of activity hot spots. For popular events such as the IPL and the New Year’s Eve countdown, city planners can anticipate crowds and respond faster to make real-time changes to ground operations.
Intelligent video analytics can be implemented in a smart city in two different ways – distributed and centralised. In a centralised system, video footage is recorded by various cameras across the city and the footage is directed to a centralised server where the data is analysed. A distributed system, on the other hand, is where the video surveillance solutions installed in the city are ‘smart’ enough to process the information collected in the form of video footage and analyse it by extracting useful information and insights.
Storage and analytics
As video data gets collected and gets integrated with other security measures, as well as with datacentres, it will have a very significant impact on storage. The sheer volume of data, and the velocity at which it is generated, altered and consumed, will threaten to overwhelm traditional storage architectures. Efficiency will need to be built into the architecture, and not bolted on. Vastly fluctuating performance demands will dictate real-time and automated responses from the storage platform.
Data will be highly distributed – some data residing on sensors and other things locally, some data in decentralised storage locations, other data cached in distributed locations to speed up delivery, and a lot of data in the backend datacenters. Consistent and appropriate policies need to be applied to data based on location, type, age and sensitivity amongst other things.
Video analytics can be widely implemented for various situations and industries. A simple video camera with decent resolution is all that is needed, as long as the IT and network infrastructure is able to support real-time analysis. If the government can ensure that our smart cities will have sufficient power supply and a good network infrastructure, it will be easier for other intelligent technologies to take shape. Once the basics are in place, the cities can transform into a hyper-connected world of data and information, out of which useful insights can be extracted, making it truly ‘smart’ and safe.