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Thermal imaging for constant vigilance

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Writer: Mr Peter Banham

The writer, takes a look at the potential impact of a new generation of lower cost, high performance, thermal imaging cameras and how these can make a difference in security and surveillance in the Indian context.


The key advantage for thermal imaging systems is range – providing true and accurate remote monitoring.  In the security sector, range equates against time: time to react, time to adjust, time to respond. Thermal security cameras detect the minute differences in heat that are all around us, all the time. This heat energy is easier to detect over longer ranges than visible light, giving thermal cameras their advantage



Perimeter protection is an ideal scenario, whether for airports, ports, commercial or military sites.  It can also be used for individual buildings, such as iconic buildings and government buildings needing constant vigilance


Given the huge increase in thermal imaging camera use in the UK, Europe and the US you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a comparatively new technology, but for those in the know, it has been around for many years.

What we have seen recently, however, is development in this technology making cameras smaller and much more affordable, which are both of obvious benefit to the fast-developing Indian marketplace. Importantly, for first-time Indian users, it allows them now to look at much higher specification equipment, at much lower costs, than just a few years ago.

 

But firstly, just what is thermal imaging and why is it a vital ‘tool’ in any security system or surveillance operation?

 

Key advantages


Unlike the human eye, or conventional CCTV cameras, thermal imaging cameras don’t use visible-light to make a picture, they use heat. This gives thermal security cameras distinct advantages over low-light and daylight cameras when lighting is impractical, too expensive or where long-range performance is required. For years, thermal security cameras have been seen as too expensive and have remained relatively expensive; so many security professionals have compromised with less expensive – and less capable – options, including CCTV, night-vision devices and infrared illuminated cameras. Thermal imaging should be used intelligently, often combined with wider systems as a complementary technology, but in many instances can successfully replace more traditional alternatives such as CCTV.


The key advantage for thermal imaging systems is range – providing true and accurate remote monitoring. In the security sector, range equates against time: time to react, time to adjust, time to respond. Thermal security cameras detect the minute differences in heat that are all around us, all the time. This heat energy is easier to detect over longer ranges than visible light, giving thermal cameras their advantage. Critically someone trying to breach a more conventional security system may use camouflage or hide or obscure themselves against buildings or other opportunities for disguise, but for thermal imaging there is no existing way to hide body heat source, or heat signature as it is sometimes known.


For many security professionals, the process of evaluating thermal cameras for purchase or recommendation is a new undertaking that exposes them to a whole new set of specifications and performance parameters that they are unfamiliar with. So, how can you get the right cameras? The quality of the images a given camera produces is a function of a number of factors including detector resolution, optics and image processing.
The detector is the heart of any thermal security camera. It’s the part that gathers the infrared energy and allows the creation of an image made from this energy. A thermal camera’s detector plays the same role as the CCD detector chip in a standard video camera.


The detector’s resolution is the number of individual detector elements found on that chip, usually measured in horizontal and vertical dimensions. The low-end options for thermal resolution typically offered are the 160 × 120 detector or the 320 × 240 detector formats, but the standard has quickly become the 640 × 480 detector. There is a good reason for this as a detector’s resolution is the first vital element in determining a camera’s ability to generate a high-quality image. The more detector elements a detector has (meaning, the higher its resolution), the more energy will be gathered and the more detail you’ll be able to see in the image.

 

Lower cost with better performance


Also, if you were to compare a camera with 640 × 480 resolution and a camera with 320 × 240 resolution that use the same size of lens, you’ll find that the 640’s angular field of view will actually be wider, yet will also detect threats from further away. In the real world, this means that you’ll be able to cover the same amount of area with fewer cameras using 640 resolution and still be able to detect intruders from farther away. In other words: lower cost with better performance.


Thermal imaging should be used intelligently, often combined with wider systems as a complementary technology, but in many instances can successfully replace more traditional alternatives such as CCTV


But just where should you be looking to use thermal imaging? The applications of thermal imaging are almost as broad as security applications themselves and thermal imaging can also be used in complementary tasks, such as fire prevention, alerting changes in temperature before a fire has actually started.


The most beneficial uses of thermal imaging systems play on the advantage of range and reduced cost, plus the need for 24/7 protection. Therefore, perimeter protection is an ideal scenario, whether for airports, ports, commercial or military sites. It can also be used for individual buildings, such as iconic buildings and government buildings needing constant vigilance.


What we have seen recently, however, is development in this technology making cameras smaller and much more affordable, which are both of obvious benefit to the fast-developing Indian marketplace.  Importantly, for first-time Indian users, it allows them now to look at much higher specification equipment, at much lower costs, than just a few years ago


Thermal imaging is also playing a valuable role in protecting critical infrastructure, especially where there is a risk of terrorism, typically this can include power stations and sub-plants, oil processing and other energy and processing sites.

One of the most high-profile uses of thermal imaging cameras in the UK is a major project taken-care of by Focus 2000 Infrared – the London Eye, which used Focus enclosure with FLIR cores. The London Eye is a giant revolving wheel that carries passengers in capsules, providing a unique experience and fantastic views of the capital. However, like all iconic buildings and attractions worldwide, it is also at risk of potential terrorist attack, or vandalism.

Just like at an airport, all passengers that want to go in one of the 32 capsules are thoroughly screened. Security staff keep an eye on all visitors waiting in line to board the capsule. In a control room security staff monitors the images coming in from CCTV cameras installed at multiple locations around the London Eye. Numerous other security measures, not all visible to visitors, are in place. However, since safety and security is the biggest priority for this high-profile attraction, the owners wanted to even further increase security for visitors to a maximum.

As with most potential targets, the highest risk times are at night and in poor light conditions, the times when thermal imaging is at its best! The requirement was to be able to highlight anyone trying to gain access to the structure itself, but before they are able to gain any entrance.

 

Video analytics

 

The images produced by the thermal imaging cameras are not only being watched by security staff. In order to eliminate human errors, they are also combined with Video Analytics. Reliable intrusion detection is based on the ability of a system to discriminate between background activity and unusual events that require investigation by security guards.

Thanks to thermal imaging, the London Eye has become even safer than before. Visitors to this major attraction can be assured that everything is in place to guarantee them a first class and safe, experience.
With the benefits of small size and light weight, thermal cameras can be deployed successfully on a temporary basis as well as being engineered into more permanent set-ups. Relatively temporary deployment is ideal for protection of areas susceptible to theft, vandalism or terrorist attack, such as stores areas, especially roadside or rail side. Other applications include surveillance applications where thermal imaging systems can ‘see inside’ trucks and other vehicles to ensure that there are no additional ‘hidden’ passengers who may pose a security or terrorist threat.

A great example of the new breed of thermal imaging camera is the new RaptiR series, a dual sensor
PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) camera with both thermal and optical systems for 24/7 surveillance. The camera’s main advantage is its combination of ultra-small size (less than 265 mm high) and class leading thermal performance (at 640 x 512 pixels) which makes it ideal for security, covert and surveillance / counter-terror applications.

Designed, developed and manufactured in the UK, the camera takes un-cooled thermal imagers a step further. It uses a new pan and tilt positioning platform combined with the high performance Tau™ range of thermal camera cores from FLIR. For greater flexibility in the field, a Sony x 36 block camera takes care of the visual / low light requirements.

The RaptiR 640 T35 provides the user with a thermal field of view, (18°) for medium range work, detection range out to 1,540 m with recognition at 380 m for a man sized object.

For the future, Indian security professionals will be using thermal imaging to take the concept of surveillance and intruder prevention to a new level, with true 24/7 operation at an affordable cost with ease of deployment.

 

To know more readers may click at:                       
http://www.focus2k.co.uk/
http://www.thermalvisionsecurity.co.uk/


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