IBM watchdog system scans digital video

Video surveillance software quickly sifts through thousands of hours of digital video

Early next year, IBM will start selling advanced video surveillance software that can sift through thousands of hours of digital video in a matter of seconds.

Called the Smart Surveillance System (S3), this software uses a number of analytic tools to index digital video recordings and then issue real-time alerts when certain patterns are detected on the video. For example, it could be used to warn security guards when an intruder had entered a secure area, or keep track of cars coming and going from a parking lot.

The software shows how digital video can be used for new applications that were not possible in the era of analog video, said Sam Docknevich, a director of IBM's Digital Video Surveillance business. "We've developed a suite of services to help customers migrate from their analog video to the new digital video solution set," he said.

S3 has been under development for several years now, as a research project at IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center, but it will be rolled into an IBM services offering called the Digital Video Surveillance Service Product, which will be available by the end of March 2007.

The digital video product will include cameras, video recorders, servers and storage, and of course the S3 software.

In addition to the real-time alerts, S3 can be used to search through hours of tedious video, Docknevich said.

For example, London authorities had to search through about 6,000 hours of surveillance tape after the July 2005 subway bombings, a slow and laborious process. "With S3, that could have been done quite quickly," he said.

IBM has been running pilot tests of the software with a number of companies, but one area that appears to be particularly promising is the retail industry, where shoplifting and product return fraud help contribute to an estimated US$50 billion in annual losses, Docknevich said.

One retailer is developing a system that looks at customers at its return counter and then searches to see if they were actually carrying the product when they entered the store. This system should make it harder for criminals to get away with a common scam in which they purchase a product, bring it home, and then come back to the store to ask for a refund on something that they have just plucked off the shelves.

IBM's approach looks like it could help to reduce retail fraud, said Allan Carey, program manager for security services at IDC. "I think the value proposition ... is pretty compelling," he said.

IBM did not release pricing details on S3 or its video surveillance products, because these costs can vary greatly depending on the size of the system being installed.

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