Lighting the Way to a Smarter, Safer City

smart lighting

The Importance of External Illumination Systems When Lighting for Video Surveillance

Demand for video surveillance systems has continued to surge throughout the years, with its market share expected to reach $40 billion by 2019 according to TrendForce’s market data. While there is no doubt that cameras keep us safer and aid in law enforcement efforts, their effectiveness, specifically in low-light applications, is often called into question. With the rising popularity of advanced video analytics and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled solutions, image quality and clarity has never been more important. Additionally, “smart” technologies are being added to bolster the security of major cities around the globe.

Often overlooked are lighting solutions that make it all possible, allowing for superior image quality no matter what time of day or night, and enabling all smart city technologies that are currently high in demand.

With large metropolises continuing to grow, there is a need for better security to improve basic operations, traffic flow and overall public safety. Specifically, there is a need for advanced video surveillance and video analytics, typically the “bread and butter” of security systems.

One of the most common pitfalls of these video solutions is inadequate lighting, resulting in unusable video in low-light conditions. Without sufficient lighting, video cameras are rendered ineffective, and the dark, grainy footage they capture is unusable by both security personnel and the analytic platforms enabling advanced functions. Inadequate lighting not only hampers video surveillance efforts, but also provides the perfect camouflage for criminals who are looking for easy opportunities.

Seeing Clearly

Illumination plays a pivotal role in the overall effectiveness of video surveillance systems; this is because cameras, much like the human eye, need some form of light to “see”, or capture video. While it may seem obvious, it’s important to acknowledge that darkness greatly diminishes a cameras ability to perform, and, as a result, there is far less situational awareness and a much greater chance for security blind spots to occur — leaving assets vulnerable to attacks.

The common response is to place cameras near regular streetlights or emergency lights, but this approach can have its own drawbacks. Not only do these sources sometimes not provide enough light, but they also may not be strategically placed to optimize object capture and monitoring.

Advanced video analytics, AI and many other surveillance-enabled technologies are all dependent upon a sufficient light source to produce clear images for thorough analysis. Everything from simple motion detection to facial recognition and license plate reading is ineffective in the absence of light. Not only that, but unclear images often result in false alarms, wasting valuable time and resources, ultimately preventing law enforcement from responding to true threats.

Harnessing the Power of White Light (LED) and Infrared (IR) Lighting

So what are the best lighting options for security applications? Most lights fall into two categories: LED and infrared lights, each coming with their own set of benefits depending upon the deployment. When exploring lighting options, knowing the needs of the application is key to finding the right fit.

White light illuminators harness visible light to brighten the area in full color, which both deters crime by eliminating the cover of darkness and enhances video for target identification. For more covert surveillance applications, IR illuminators have a much longer range and are completely invisible to the human eye. LED is most often used for illuminators, having 80-90 percent efficiency, as compared to the 10-20 percent for incandescent, halogen, and fluorescent. On average, the efficiency of commercial and public LED lighting saves the user over $700 per year per bulb, while simultaneously delivering superior illumination quality, providing an even spectrum of light without blind spots.

While convenient, cameras with built-in lighting options provide their own set of challenges to work around. The most commonly used integrated IR illuminators in day/night cameras are only effective for short distance applications, providing light for up to 100 feet at most. Built-in LEDs around the camera lens can also pose serious issues, causing the camera itself to overheat and the bulbs to burn out and attracting bugs to the camera lens with the positioning of the light.
On the other hand, external IR illuminators provide superior range for long-distance video applications, with some units allow for ranges of over 900 feet. Because these light sources are installed separately from the camera, the security camera has greater bandwidth for video storage. Another advantage of independent white light and IR illuminators is they are available in a variety of angles, one important system design aspect that is often overlooked. Deploying a light whose angle of illumination directly corresponds with the camera lens eliminates hotspots, meaning end users can enjoy evenly lit, clear images.

Safer, Smarter Cities

When thinking of all of the “smart” technologies that go into making cities safer, like AI and deep learning software, it’s important to note illumination’s role in making it all possible. Whether it is securing businesses, campuses, or hospitals within a city, functioning analytics improve overall visitor management for any facility. External illumination enables advanced functions, including facial recognition, people counting and license plate recognition, to work together and perform at their best.

Take, for example, facial recognition, a technology that is positioned to have a major impact on the security industry. These analytics can be integrated with existing cameras but cannot function properly in low-light scenarios without additional lighting. Imagine someone trespasses onto a closed college campus after hours and approaches a library. In this scenario, a wide-angle short-range white light illuminator has been mounted alongside an HD camera to aid facial recognition software at the library’s entrance. As the individual approaches the library, the camera scans the person’s face, running it against a list of registered sex offenders. The camera identifies a match and sends an alert to the campus security director. Before the situation can escalate further, law enforcement is dispatched, the individual is detained, and a potential threat is prevented. The facial recognition analytics would not have been able to perform if it were not for the external illumination allowing the cameras to “see” the suspect as they approached a secured area of the campus.

License plate recognition (LPR) is another advanced analytic software gaining traction in the public safety and security market. Capturing license plates has proven to be a major point of pain for all video surveillance solutions. Images captured are usually obscured by reflections from the sun or other headlights. Many IP cameras can now enable LPR by simply adding an external lighting fixture. This means that cameras can detect license plates in low-light or no-light scenarios.

Not only does this ensure that blacklisted individuals do not enter facilities (hospitals, airports, casinos, etc.) but it also aids in the recovery of stolen vehicles. In the U.S., a vehicle is stolen every 45 seconds, and nearly 42 percent of those vehicles are never recovered, as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). By strategically placing LPR-enabled cameras around a city, law enforcement would be able to track the whereabouts of stolen vehicles by flagging them within the system. When the license plate of a stolen car has been scanned, authorities can immediately be informed of the vehicle’s location within the city.

Deterring Crime and Aiding Law Enforcement

When it comes to the safety of other city infrastructure, many government buildings and campuses face vandalism crimes regularly. For some, the presence of graffiti creates a sense of unease and lack of protection, and an estimated $12 billion a year in public funds are allocated to the removal of graffiti in the United States alone, according to data from the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. This vandalism contributes to major losses in revenue triggered by decreases in property value, unsellable retail merchandise and even a decrease in passengers on public transit. All of these situations can cause interruptions in business operations and financial losses.

The Impact of Lighting Color on Security

Believe it or not, some lighting can encourage criminal activity depending on its color. Dim yellow lighting not only hinders video surveillance performance, but it also often makes people feel uneasy, as reported by in the 2017 article, “Who’s Watching Your Facility.” However, white light illumination with a color temperature rating of 6500k does the opposite, filling dark areas with inviting bright light and affording better situational awareness. When white light illuminators are strategically placed in dark, regularly-targeted areas, the white light can act as a deterrent and communicate the sense of “being watched.” As a result, vandals can be dissuaded from committing crimes. White light has also proven to be highly effective in aiding in the illumination of crime scenes for judiciary purposes. This bright white lighting naturally enhances full-color video capture, aiding tremendously in suspect identification and apprehension. IR light, on the other hand, may not be a crime deterrent but works effectively to enhance and enable advanced functions for city surveillance at night.

Best Practices for Integration

Having the right illumination for security surveillance goes far beyond flooding a given area with light. Illuminators must be strategically placed to obtain optimal results, and where security operators can truly see the benefits in the surveillance footage. Here are some best practices for illuminator deployment.

The first step is taking the time to carefully assess the environment and selecting the right light for the deployment. So how can you tell what light you need for applications? Generally speaking, white light illuminators are most effective in applications where deterring crime and capturing evidentiary class video for suspect identification are the priorities. White light is best used in places like parking lots or garages, loading bays, airports or other areas where color video is crucial.

IR lighting is ideally used when the deployment calls for covert monitoring, not alerting intruders that they are being watched. Common IR applications include securing borders, government facilities and critical infrastructure sites. An IR security light allows authorities to track intruders’ movements without them knowing, revealing their point of entry.

Lastly, knowing what type of camera is being paired with illuminators is another key factor in deployments. Pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras, which are becoming less popular but are still used in some installations, present their own set of unique challenges, as their ability to move cannot be matched by lighting solutions. This is where angles of illumination come into play. For a PTZ camera, the key is to match the angle of illumination with their required scene of view to obtain full coverage. For example, by setting multiple 120-degree wide-angle external illuminators on a triple-mounting bracket, complete coverage for a 360-degree camera can be achieved.

Many people are still in the dark when it comes to pairing external lighting and surveillance solutions. Without ample light, video capture is impossible and all advanced analytics functions rendered useless. With the growth of both “smart” technologies and cities, the video market will only expand, opening new doors for security analytics.