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The evolution of onboard cameras in transport systems

The evolution of onboard cameras in transport systems
IP-based cameras are increasingly becoming an integral part of public transportation systems. Options to integrate various kinds of solutions have taken the possibilities further, going beyond the safety of passengers to ensuring drivers are doing their job well.
IP-based cameras are increasingly becoming an integral part of public transportation systems. Options to integrate various kinds of solutions have taken the possibilities further, going beyond the safety of passengers to ensuring drivers are doing their job well. Despite its relatively short period in the market, onboard network cameras have come a long way from their original days. In a recent blog post, Michael Chen, Global Product Manager at Axis Communications, explained how far the technology its applications have evolved.

"One of the key considerations when developing onboard cameras is the lifespan of the vehicles they are being built for,”Chen noted.“Train carriages are often used for up to 40 years, whereas cameras should be replaced every 7 to 8 years. It is important, therefore, that the cameras can easily be replaced. To achieve this, manufacturers can ensure that newer cameras have the same form and fit, so that even as technology evolves it is possible to seamlessly retrofit older train carriage interiors.”

There were several challenges to be overcome before onboard cameras could receive wide acceptance. Given the mobile nature of vehicles, solutions had to be robust with reliable mechanical components. Over the years, solutions have improved, and new features have been added to deal with difficulties like varying light conditions, storage constraints and data transmission on the move.

Lighting challenges in transport surveillance

Vehicles are constantly on the move. This means they could move from one lighting condition to another in a matter of minutes. Tunnels, bad weather conditions, etc., are just a few situations as examples of this. Surveillance cameras on transport solutions need to be smart enough adjust to this dynamic atmosphere.

“When a bus or a train comes out of a dark tunnel into bright sunshine, for example, there needs to be less delay in adjusting to the light changes while ensuring all the forensic details are clearly visible even in the dark parts of a scene — without over-exposing the bright parts,” Chen said. “In order to specifically address these challenging scenes, onboard cameras need to be designed with advanced image processing technologies such as Wide Dynamic Range (WDR). There are many WDR solutions available on the market, but, as would be expected, some are better than others, with the lower-end solutions often creating visual anomalies within the image that can significantly reduce usability.”

Vehicles that travel long distances also tend to switch off lights during the trip, complicating things further. To deal with this issue, advanced image processing technologies embedded in some cameras make it possible to depict and detect objects of interest using lifelike colors even in very low light conditions, Chen said. Such forensic details are vital for legal prosecutions, deterring criminals and increase overall passenger security.

Storage and analytics onboard

Image compression has had an important role in furthering the popularity of surveillance solutions on transport systems. Given the space limitations in vehicles, drives that can retain footage for longer periods were once impossible. But improved codecs have helped in this regard, allowing better usage of surveillance footage. Another development has been the use of analytics.

“As the processing power in onboard cameras hasbeen improved by technological advances, they have been integrated with more advanced software that represents a change in the utility of the camera,” Chen said.“Onboard network cameras can now also integrate with analytics applications, allowing transportation companies to access valuable data about passenger numbers and use of public transport, optimizing services and staffing.”

Such software has a wide range of applications in the transport sector, with demand for additional security functionality, he continued. In recent years, transport police have become concerned with unattended luggage and suspicious packages left on public transport. Cameras can be equipped with software that recognizes left luggage. As a result, police and other security services have extra help in detecting suspicious packages and can respond quicker.

The future of onboard cameras

As more and more devices become integrated with network cameras, the applications of surveillance systems are bound to increase. According to Chen, onboard cameras could well become one of the core components of smart cities, making use of advanced technologies like machine learning. However, there are certain concerns. Cybersecurity, for instance, is something that admins have to be wary of. With the right practices, though, video surveillance in transport systems will play a crucial role in the technology-driven cities of the future.
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