Used for retail, security, or industrial markets, smart cameras have seen steady growth in popularity, and it’s easy to see why. As with computing in general, smart cameras have evolved to offer greater computing power in a smaller and comparatively cheaper package. Factor in greater ease of connectivity and the packaging of additional sensors on cameras to measure everything from audio to temperature to humidity and more, and the appeal is clear: smart cameras are allowing users to do more while spending less.
This trend toward greater smart camera usage isn’t new, but the pandemic has further accelerated smart camera adoption and fostered new use cases for them. The pandemic has changed how we work and led to a new focus on remote collaboration. But there’s more going on than just on-camera meetings becoming the norm for many companies, large and small alike. If you “zoom” out to think about the ways in which we’re now using cameras more broadly, you see that COVID has fundamentally changed the course of smart camera adoption, with a deluge of smart cameras changing work streams, catalyzing new use cases, and contributing to safer and more productive enterprise activity.
The explosion of smart cameras, particularly those connected at the intelligent edge, have both enabled new solutions for old problems and fostered innovative ways to ease the emerging difficulties prompted by COVID (for instance, the supply chain crunch).
This fundamental shift was a major theme on full display at this year’s recent International Security Conference and Exposition (ISC West) in Las Vegas, NV. After a COVID-inspired dip last year, attendance jumped dramatically with nearly 20,000 attendees returning to see new products and trends in person. The excitement was back for face-to-face interaction, perhaps ironically given the clear theme of the ways in which smart cameras have, as Qualcomm captured in its press release, helped “reimagine the new normal” of remote applications and use cases.
Coinciding with new demands fostered by the pandemic, four additional and complementary connectivity developments have helped catalyze a recent and fundamental transformation in how smart cameras are now being used:
· Edge computing: moving processing physically closer to smart cameras has improved speed, latency, and reliability.
· AI and ML maturation: as modeling has improved, so too have the number of advanced use cases for smart cameras.
· Cloud computing and storage: cheaper and more expansive cloud options are erasing burdens for onsite IT teams and enabling greater plug and play capabilities that companies of all sizes can take advantage of.
· Wireless connectivity expansion: bandwidth is greater, data is cheaper, and the growth in private networks is helping solve privacy and security concerns.
All told, the above changes have radically transformed traditional Video Management Software (VMS) into Video Surveillance as a Service (VSaaS). VMS often required a sizable investment and necessitated manual, onsite monitoring with limited analytics, while VSaaS offers a low initial investment, includes built-in advanced analytics, and provides the flexibility and scalability to grow with a business as use cases change. Perhaps most importantly during the last few years when in-person work has decreased, VSaaS is perfect for remote monitoring.
Put it all together and smart cameras connected to the intelligent edge have led to an explosion of creative problem solving, increased productivity, and enhanced safety and security solutions.
Smart solutions from today’s smart cameras
Today’s smart cameras enable much more than surveillance in a traditional sense. Though not exhaustive, smart camera capabilities can be loosely categorized as helping with monitoring and counting, detection, and/or alerting. These capabilities, combined with analytics performed on the edge based on AI/ML modeling, have led to the ability to act on real-time data.
In turn, this type of near-immediate responsiveness enables better business decision making and better customer experiences across a wide variety of industries. This year’s ISC West clearly demonstrated how technology advancements fuel new solutions across an ever-growing number of sectors.
For example, Qualcomm announced new ecosystem partnerships along with highlighting a full suite of chips and SoCs that power smart cameras across multiple tiers and use cases, including but not limited to:
Used in conjunction with AI-powered people counting, smart cameras can assure that capacity protocols are followed and ideal occupancy levels maintained. Take it one step further and smart cameras with AI can also monitor mask wearing, track social distancing, and aid in contact tracing.
Manufacturing and agriculture
Smart cameras are helping ease supply chains that COVID has stretched and broken. When used to monitor production lines, smart cameras can help streamline manufacturing by identifying anomalies and sending alerts when bottlenecks or issues arise. Smart cameras can also help to increase plant safety and compliance by continuously monitoring to assure that workers are wearing vests, hardhats, or other required gear. When used in agriculture, smart cameras can help alleviate food supply chain difficulties by monitoring for weeds and identifying opportunities to thin crops to maximize yields.
Logistics and fleet management
Equipped with license plate detection, smart cameras can monitor vehicle arrivals and departures at manufacturing plants to help keep track of inventory flow. When combined with remote access capabilities and RF ID tags, smart cameras using license plate detection can further aid efficiency by automatically unlocking gates when an approved vehicle arrives. Installed within vehicles, smart cameras can also help to train drivers, to assure safety protocol compliance, and to cut accident risks.
In a retail setting, smart cameras used in conjunction with RF ID tags can do much more than simply monitor for shoplifting. As cashier-less (and contact-less) Amazon Go stores have shown, smart cameras can help create a friction-free shopping experience where goods are automatically tracked and no checkout or cashier is required. From a market research standpoint, smart cameras can also monitor what products are most often interacted with, how, and by whom.
Safety and security
Facial recognition is a well-known use case, but smart cameras are also used to detect motion or restrict entry. Remote monitoring and automatic alerts mean multiple cameras can be overseen offsite. Doors with smart cameras can help restrict entry from those whose face or badge are not recognized. Management or authorities can be contacted when unusual events occur.
Will the trend continue?
Smart cameras have been a natural fit for a pandemic helping to shift work toward a remote-first framework. But regardless of where the pandemic next goes, this explosion of smart cameras and the creation of new use cases for cameras tied to the connected intelligent edge is unlikely to slow down.
For those looking to join this transition toward greater smart camera usage, the easiest entry will likely be found by partnering with an established player that has ties across the full ecosystem. Qualcomm, for instance, is one such partner. The company not only offers a broad portfolio of smart camera chipsets and SoCs but has also established broad partnerships and verified third-party collaborations with cloud system providers, system integrators, distributors, and hardware development platforms. In addition, Qualcomm offers a number of solutions that are not only ready to deploy out-of-the-box with minimal effort but also take existing, deployed regular cameras and enable them with smart capability. These turnkey products take advantage of an AI Box running a rich suite of services that have enabled a new class of IoT as a Service (IoTaaS) solutions.
For customers, these types of IoTaaS offerings bring flexibility, cost savings, and ease of implementation and use. In short, the smart camera trend that accelerated during COVID looks to have a long runway left. Indeed, as AI becomes smarter and new camera architectures are developed, it’s likely that additional new use cases will emerge. From that perspective, we are in the midst of a virtuous smart camera cycle, where smart cameras at the connected edge enable new use cases and those use cases in turn will inspire additional smart camera development moving forward. If COVID and smart cameras are any indication, this type of virtuous cycle could continue to have profound impacts on what type of work people perform, how they perform that work, and even where work itself takes place.