WISIWYS© or generalised video presence

Dashcams, lightcams, bodycams, nannycams, refcams, dronecams, transported or wearable, smartphones, connected cameras:

What I See Is What You See (WISIWYS)

What is really announcing the French Prime Minister decision to systematize bodycams usage by French police forces, else than the new era of video surveillance, in sync with mobility new usages ?


Sensors miniaturization, video encoding progress and SD card storage capacity increase have made possible mass sales of high definition action cams.  Like extreme sports adepts, cars, drones and even policemen now wear these video witnesses able to record hours of video and sound (24h a minima on a 32GO SDcard and soon twice as much if H265 meets the expectations). In the case of bodycams, the video is captured and recorded on the device, it has to be offloaded onto a large capacity external storage to be preserved and analysed. That is considerably increasing the volume of security video already needed for traditional stand-alone security cams. As an example, the 4500 bodycams that are supposed to be used by the French police over the next few months will require another round of 3 petabytes (3,000 terabytes).

This milestone of mobility in digital video illustrates in fact a real paradigm shift for video surveillance, the shift from a network centric video surveillance (IP video surveillance) to a storage centric video surveillance, storage being the indispensable source to preserve video and feed subsequent streaming and processing. This step of course holds a few technical challenges related to managing enormous amounts of centralized video and analysing it in preventive indexing or post event investigation. Nevertheless, it does not constitute the real revolution, the one that really changes the way people will operate. That revolution will be brought by high bandwidth wireless connectivity (LTE and up) that will allow real-time transmission of video to the operations centers from mobile wireless geolocated cameras on the field. 

This post describes the transformation happening in the technologies and operations of video surveillance while ip video surveillance is still ongoing. It explores mid-term and long-term consequences of video surveillance feeds mobility as they multiply the surveillance systems potential, providing them with adaptability, scalability and interoperability. 

Police DJI drone

Two recent examples will illustrate our talk from the recent terrorist attacks in Paris: first, the French Prime Minister to extend the use of body cameras worn by policemen; then the use of a DJI Phantom quad-copter drone by special police forces who assaulted and killed the three ISIS terrorists entranched in an appartment downtown Saint Denis, on the 18th of November 2015.

We will end this prospective study by a technology review, in an attempt to mesure the real expectations brought by the generalization of new usages of mobility, in terms of systems. As usually in security, the technologies are not usable until integrated into existing applications in a global and systemic view, centered around the human operator. To his extent, we will review the impact of new usages on the three technology pillars of video surveillance:  sensors, network and infrastructure.

Eventually, we will conclude by drawing a few perspectives toward this new video surveillance, the one which appears by transparency in the concept of co-production of security by private security firms and public authorities. We will unveil that the near future is rich of opportunities for companies that will understand the technology challenge, not for downsizing the security forces but to complement their action. It is albeit solely a prospective view and very abstracted from its legislative context, which remains coexisting to any development in the public security field.

The conditions of the rise of the new revolution of video surveillance

camera sensor
size decreases inversely from resolution

The detonating cocktail of innovation in Information Technologies contains three mandatory ingredients : miniaturization of sensor technologies, increase in storage and processing capacity and  Internet connectivity. This cocktail explains the fuss around the Internet of Objects (IoT), a new name for the well known concept of machine to machine (M2M). In the camera field, systematic use of one or two sensors per smartphone has brought new usages for shooting picture and video, for uploading them, for sharing them, that primarily only concerned private users but which ended up in new professional security applications and services.

Smartphone, the first mobile connected camera

Scientific community recently began studying impact of new video sharing uses in the context of urban security. The paper « UbiOpticon » from Urban Informatics Research Lab  of Queensland U. in Australia and from Urban Computing and Cultures Research Group of Oulu University in Finland, describe an analysis of a « participative » video surveillance.

Dashcam coyote
Dashcams are specialized Digital Video Recorders that record one or more cameras located in the car as well as other parameters like position, impacts, bumps, theft alarm, etc.

It is a fact, historically the first Internet Objects have actually been smartphones. Each of them is equiped with one or two sensors and loaded with Internet connectivity, storage and processing capacity. For a while now, they are many more cameras sold embedded in smartphones than in any other form. They are more smartphones than human being on earth yet… Beyond smartphones, video sensors miniaturization turned them in an embeddable comodity and gave birth to a new generation of « video augmented objects », able to record and sometimes transmit images: drones, wearable accessories (GLASSES, BODYCAM) and recorders (DASHCAMS, LIGHTCAMS). Mobility of these new cameras, but also their relative position  to the operator (policemen bodycam, smart glasses, drone cameras) draw new perspectives because user does not necessarily stream selfies but rather shares what he or she actually sees.

What I see is what you see

New services based on mobile video capture and sharing

Concurrently with the massive smartphones deployment, we have seen since 2006 the emergence of new video broadcasting services, in store and forward mode, but also in real-time. The usual video conference and video surveillance application segments have been completed with new uses geared toward video sharing.

The first applications able to share video from smartphones in real time over the Internet appeared a few years ago with companies like Qik created in 2006, which pioneered this field. Qik proposed an app freely available both on App store and Play store, to capture and send a video stream from a smartphone to a central server wher the video was recorded and broadcasted to a selected panel of friends, or to the public. Recorded videos could be viewed in private or public mode. As a comparison, the famous and excellent  Facetime service from Apple was only introduced by Steve Jobs 4 years after, in 2010 and would only allow two persons handling Iphones to hold a simple video conference meeting.

This comparison illustrates pretty well the rupture that cameras mobility and connectivity introduces compared with historic usages of video that are conferencing and surveillance, where cameras tend to be fixed and users in restricted number.

In the new « mobile video », the main objective is sharing. Real-time sharing or delayed sharing with a more or less large number of persons, in private or in public, opening new opportunities of services and raising the question of the range, the use and the security of such applications.

Qik has now vanished, acquired and ingested by Microsoft Skype in January 2011. The app was visionary and some other companies like Keek or Ustream (mentionned here under) have taken over the model today. This is this particular usage of video sharing in real time, named « Life Casting » in the US, which is brought by the major of video over Internet, Youtube, allowing users to operate a real « chain » on the Internet, with its live sessions and its recordings.

Ubiopticon Ustream system
UbiOpticon software architecture

In the Finish experiment detailed in the scientific article UbiOPticon, there is notably the Ustream service, used as one of the modules of the software architecture to stream videos from smartphones and mix them with video coming from surveillance IP cameras (webcams). Video streas are conveyed to the central Ustream server which records them and broadcasts them on the monitoring screens located purposedly in public spaces (bus stop) for the needs of the experimentation.

The last avatar of this application kind is  Periscope, an add-on for twitter, made from a start-up acquired by twitter in March 2015. The start-up tagline is saying it crisp and loud : « See the world through someone else’s eyes. ».

Loft story, Secret story, Big brother have also been precursors of this new wave of video sharing, albeit using the TV networks for being broadcasting fixed cameras located in the studios. 

Caméra piéton Exavision
Exavision bodycam

Today, authorities begin to use cameras mounted in cars and connected to the City control centers. Police forces will soon be equipped (in France) with body cameras which video will be recorded on the camera SD card before being offloaded to a central archival system to preserve the recordings. The legal frame must of course be defined before and clearly as the risk to infringe the privacy and individual liberties rights is high with such pervasive technologies.  Nevertheless, the generalization of such video witnesses, already largely used in North America, is a huge trend. This has created the increased need for powerful and unlimited storage management systems, able to record and process all the mobile video. 

Indeed, the number of cameras has sky rocketed and the nobody hopes to be able to view them all live. At best, we can analyse in real-time with sophisticated algorithms (video analytics). It is then mandatory to use a storage system not only capable of storing safely every camera but also to stream efficiently the recorded video up to the analytic processes and human operators. To this extent, the role of the storage system becomes central, relegating the network to a comodity role. This is the advent of the storage centric video surveillance, after the rise of the network centric video surveillance. We will see in the following that this new paradigm of storage centric video surveillance is accompanied by the birth of a new activity of « mobile video surveillance » which is embryonnic today but will most certainly represent the largest part of security systems in a few years from now. If today most of the cameras are stand-alone, we can foresee that when police and private security forces are fully equipped with body cameras and smart glasses, fixed cameras will become a minority as security video feeds.

As an early signal, one can notice that, during the recent tragic events that struck Paris, video and photo testimonials from the attacks have been used systematically by the media. That is how the social networks are taking a very important part in the homeland security and are considered by crisis management authorities as a highly valid open source of information.

Connectivity revolutionizes mobile video surveillance

In 2016, mobility does not systematically get along with real-time transmission because the broadband wireless data network is still expensive. For a few cameras on board of vehicles and able to transit their streams to Urban Control Centers, the vast majority of bodycams are still only portable DVRs. The same for drones, the entry level of video drones is only recording. First Person Video modules that allow to remotely pilot the drone are reserved to high end models like the one used in the assault against terrorists in Saint-Denis. Hence, the security video sources are more and more numerous but few are available live. The majority is only available in delayed mode.

However, connectivity revolutionizes mobility. By allowing the live sharing of images, the 4G networks open wide new cooperations between mobile cameras and Operation Centers. We can anticipate that over the 5 next years, the 4G+ mobile data network not only will allow the operation of large numbers of mobile cameras but will represent a worthwhile substitute to the wired network to connect new stand-alone cameras. The wireless broadband network as the main connectivity solution for the whole range of video surveillance edge equipments, stand-alone, on-board, mobile, there we see the revolution of that mobile interconnected video, in uses that will be derived  from it. Let’s analyse this new context.

Geolocation, redundance and  interoperability redefine mobile and interconnected video surveillance

The new paradigm:

  • Cameras move with operators as they are worn or remotely operated
    Supervizor manages operators to cover blind spots or increase coverage of hot spots. They are selected by supervizors according to efficiency parameters like proximity, moving speed, availability. Operators on the field participate actively to security enforcement.
  • Operators bring cameras on identified events and threats to optimize situational awareness and decision making.
  • Operators cooperate with supervizor and communicate about the situation witnessed by their video feed

The superviser is not any more the spectator of the event but the coordinator of video coverage. He manages convergence of video operators on the hot spots. The reactive surveillance based on fixed cameras is doubled by an active surveillance able to adapt to the threat and the situation. Video coverage can be adapted and optimized, even predictive, opening new opportunities for successfull cooperation with predictive policing applications where statistical anticipation of the situations and  hot spots location  are taken into account for optimizing the placement of police forces.

IT infrastructures are the new pillars of video surveillance

Challenges of this revolution of mobile video surveillance are clear: we must exceed the limits that have slowed down effcacity of traditional video surveillance as we know it today. We can name them:

  • insufficient coverage
  • difficulties to manage multiplication of video feeds
  • difficulties to analyse video and correlate information from different sources
  • marginal role of supervisor in video annotation and indexing
  • difficult coordination with operators on the field

Hence we must, in order to legitimate a technological response,  ensure the resilience of a broadband wireless network able to link together all the elements of his system, develop a server  infrastructure able to manage recording and analysis of all video feeds, develop analytic algorithms for image processing and data correlation that will enable leveraging the big data to bring a superior level of situational awareness. 


Conclusion: toward private-public security joint production

Such a system is at the forefront to anticipate and manage crisis with a reactivity and a scalability that far exceeds the biggest current video surveillance systems.

The private security companies, if the law permits it, can play a substantial role by equiping their intervention forces with authorities compliant devices. This way, we will see the massive deployment of sensors comparable to the smartphones, to which will be added the drones cams, the domestic cams, the smart glasses, the private dashcams and police cars cameras and last but not least the robot cameras that will, in the next 15 years significantly increase the list of potential evidence witnesses. The joint production of security between governments and private companies is thus potentially doubled by a possible uberization of homeland security, through a « crowd surveillance » effect. Moreover, on Europol site it can be read :

It is not enough for the police alone to fight crime. Reducing the risk and fear of crime is a task for the police and the community working together. To achieve our aim of making Europe safer, we need citizens who live here, work here and visit here to do their part in making life difficult for criminals. These pages contain basic information to help you contribute to the fight against crime by protecting yourself and your property. Follow these tips to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of crime…

The challenge for governments, assuming the global threat of terrorism, is thus in the necessary cooperation of public and private forces and in the delivery of infrastructures and services able to anticipate on the heavy industry and economic trends described here. Nevertheless, those challenges in terms of capacity and security of information systems must remain framed in a « security by design » approach which only will guarantee video streams authenticity but most importantly individual liberties.