Statistical Data Analysis

When will the IoT begin exploiting visual data?

This is a contributed piece by James Wickes, CEO and co-founder of Cloudview

While the Internet of Things (IoT) can be criticised for the amount of hype it has generated, look a little more closely and you will find a range of practical applications. Some are still in the development stage, such as Lancaster University’s research on countryside applications which may see them fitting digital collars on sheep and placing sensors on riverbanks and installing rain fall and river flow monitors. Others are already in use, for example enabling users to regulate their heating via their mobile phones.

The IoT connects functioning devices and sensors together so they can interact and data can be collected from them - rather like a digital version of the human body, of which the most dominant sense is visual, a hitherto completely under-valued aspect of the IoT. It has such massive potential, with so many unconnected visual devices available, that I believe it could become a new category – the Visual IoT (VIoT).

Digital cameras are everywhere, from CCTV systems monitoring buildings and public spaces to cameras recording everything from car number plates to how often a digital billboard advertisement is displayed. However, much of the visual data collected is only used for a single purpose rather than integrated with other applications, and only a tiny percentage is actually used.

As online CCTV hacking becomes simpler, we look at what data might mean for security and IoT. Check out: CCTV hack: Insight from the eerie, yet fully legal, world of live streaming

Meanwhile visual data, often randomly recorded, and the ubiquity of the devices that collect it are quite literally shaping the way events are reported. Imagine a world where all the data from these devices is collected and analysed. If you were to add analytics, connect cameras to other machines via the internet and add a bit of IFFT (if this then that), you would have a vast new market - the VIoT. In other words, the integration of visual data into a uniform IP-based data stream integrated into the capabilities and functions of a network of physical objects and devices.

By doing this, traffic, weather, crime and accident reporting would be completely turned on its head. As an individual with a VIoT device enters a certain area, by previous agreement their data could be aggregated with that of others to create an accurate (non-fake) picture of an event.

The big issue is of course privacy, but with the right analytical software it is possible to enable automatic decisions to be made whilst enhancing the privacy of individuals, because the involvement of other prying humans can be reduced with technologies such as facial and behaviour recognition. With everyone bought into (and signed up to) the convenience of a world enabled by the VIoT, improved privacy would be a welcome by-product.

This may sound like a futuristic prospect, but one area where the VIoT is already making an impact is CCTV surveillance and monitoring – not an area traditionally associated with the rapid adoption of new technology. The VIoT enables analogue and IP-based CCTV systems to be brought up to date and beyond without the need to replace cameras or recording equipment, or the two technologies can be combined with the cloud. By simply adding an adapter to each camera, existing analogue CCTV systems can be securely connected to users via internet-based cloud systems using standard connections - regular broadband, 3G or satellite services. This enables authorised users to monitor and review event-triggered alerts, live video feeds and recorded footage wherever and whenever they want via their smartphone, tablet or PC. It can also add remote monitoring and alerting, as well as integration with other applications,

Companies such as Vodafone are introducing such systems by integrating cloud-based CCTV with building security systems, adding visual verification to intruder alarms. Such systems would enable home security companies and the police to check properties visually when an alarm had gone off and quickly ascertain whether a break-in or other problem had occurred, or whether it was a false alarm. Think of the time and cost savings this would provide, as well as enabling immediate action to be taken if appropriate.

Another application is the world of work, where the IoT has tremendous potential to help us to improve the way we do things. Think of a sports stadium where, with the help of TV cameras covering every angle, professional sportsmen and women can watch replays of their performance. They can look at tiny details and identify potential for marginal gains which, if they can be implemented, will make the difference between good and exceptional performance.

The same principles could easily be applied to work. The technology to do it is already available – all that is preventing us is our mind-set. There's no longer a need to think of surveillance as prying, as analytics enables monitoring by exception rather than 24-hour man-on-man surveillance. Think instead of how video can be used to help streamline workflow in a factory or ensure that people lift heavy loads correctly to avoid injury. What about the potential applications in a hospital, studying the performance of surgical or A&E teams to improve the placing of equipment so that it’s readily to hand when time is of the essence?

The VIOT could also be used to help to sell products and services. These days we all want to know the provenance and composition of what we eat. Rather than just a picture on the packaging of our pizza to tell us about the maker’s brand values, how about a QR code that takes our smartphone to live video of the manufacturing line to win our trust – similar to current advertisements from some of the low-cost supermarkets and fast food chains?

The VIoT has tremendous potential to transform our lives. All we need is for manufacturers to put two and two together and bring relevant products to the market.



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