Safeguarding Harsh Environments With Ruggedized Cameras

Safeguarding Harsh Environments With Ruggedized Cameras

Surveillance cameras allow people to monitor objects of interest in faraway locations even though they cannot be physically present. However, these cameras are also prone to vandalism and natural disasters. A&S takes stock of the current technology developments, challenges and future trends of rugged cameras manufactured in Asia.

Rugged cameras (vandal-,explosion- or bullet-proof) have been available on the market for quite some time. Today, the technology for these cameras is mature and caters to various user needs.

Prices of rugged cameras are generally higher than those of regular cameras due to their sophisticated technical designs and high endurance in harsh environments. As such, installations of such cameras are not widespread, and technology developments only take place when necessary, said Shawn Hsu, Technical Director at Surpedia Technologies.

Among all rugged cameras, vandal-proof cameras take the largest market share, said Rich Huang, PM at EverFocus Electronics. Markets for other rugged cameras such as explosion- and bullet-proof ones are even smaller because the target segments are more niche.

Rugged dome and box cameras are most in demand. Dome cameras' appearances are less intrusive, so they are often users' top choice, especially in North America, said Huang. Sales for rugged dome cameras are still growing steadily from 2008 to 2009, said Li.

Currently, Europe and North America have the highest demand for rugged cameras because of their extreme outdoor conditions, said Garrett Li, Marketing Specialist at DynaColor. Rugged cameras can be used in verticals such as government, military, industry and critical infrastructure. For vandal-proof cameras, applications mainly include building complexes, casinos and bars where higher probability of vandalism exists, said Carrie Lee, PM at Yoko Technology.

Technology Developments
"The main difference between rugged cameras and regular cameras lies in the cameras' casings and module designs," said Hsu. Weatherproof, die-cast metal casings covered with polycarbonate allow cameras to operate smoothly under harsh environments.

"Technology for vandal-proof cameras is considerably mature; there has been no significant breakthrough lately," said Huang. This was seconded by Hsu: "There has been no dramatic change in user needs nor the size of the overall market."

Still, certain high-end requirements must be met. Casing and dome cover materials, module designs, lenses and sensors, and add-on features such as IR-cut filters and LEDs are all showing improvements.

Casing Requirements
The impact level which camera casings can withstand is key to vandal-proof cameras, said Huang. For example, aluminum casings with IP65 to 69 ratings ensure different levels of water protection.

Dome shells made of polycarbonate can withstand 380 kilograms of impact. "Clear and tinted designs are offered. While a tinted cover could conceal a camera's viewing direction, it may affect image clarity," said Lee.

With IP-based solutions gaining momentum, larger casings and better heat dissipation designs are required, said Huang. Heaters or fans could be built in if required, and lightning-proofing can be done on circuit boards.

Users in general prefer rugged cameras with casings that are simple and not flashy. "They have a fixed idea on how a rugged dome camera looks like," said Lee. Vandal-proof dome cameras can also be mounted on walls and ceilings and have the ability to conceal camera direction.

Mechanical Designs
"Areas where rugged cameras are required are usually high above the ground. Installers prefer cameras that are easier to install," said Li. "A rugged dome camera with its camera, base, casing and dome shell all can be taken apart for easy installations, and maintenance can save about half of the installation time."

Cameras with covers seamlessly attached to the casings allow for manual or automatic camera angle and lens focus adjustments, with outside controllers, Huang said. Three- or four-axis for angle views can provide clearer image and offer flexibility in terms of installing locations, said Lora Tsai, Sales Manager at Eyeview Electronics.

All-in-one cameras are another model that users can choose from. "A supporting core connecting both the dome cover and the casing can prevent the cover from falling during installations," said Huang.

Lenses and Sensors
To ensure image clarity under different environments, camera lenses and sensors are also evolving. "A spherical, auto-iris, varifocal lens renders the best image quality during night time with built-in IR LEDs," said Tsai. "For low-light conditions, cameras with CCDs and IR–cut filters offer high performance," said Li. "CCDs bring about better image quality and higher light sensitivity." Cameras can also support CMOS sensors and motorized lens based on various surveillance needs.

IR LEDs for Day/Night
Day/night functions are a must for rugged cameras. For box cameras, manufacturers can separate the protective glass covering the IR LEDs and cameras to prevent reflections. For dome cameras, some manufacturers use rubber to push the IR light closer to the dome cover within the cameras to reach the same effect, said Huang. The systems could have built-in heater and fan designs, which can allow the system to work under temperatures ranging from -40 to 55 degrees Celsius, said Li.

Rules and Regulations
"There are no clear unified standards governing the manufacturing of rugged cameras," said Li. "However, some industrial standards are serving as guidelines for manufacturers to know how to effectively design the cameras for easy installations."

For example, 4S Mount is a US standard for screw designs on the back of the dome camera that allows fixed dome cameras to be easily installed indoor. The cabling outlets could also follow the industrial standards in size to make installations easier, said Li.

Furthermore, Axis Communications used the IK ranking to identify the sturdiness of a fix dome's cover, said Li. Testing is done within factories to ensure that the cover is strong enough to provide full protection in harsh environments. Among all, IK10 is one of the most widely used standards, which can take the weight of 20 joules, said Lee.

Selection Criteria
Vandal-proof cameras have been on the market for quite some time, so their features are not very different from one another. Quality and overall system performance will be key to product selection, said Lee.

Selecting a vandal-proof security camera is no rocket science. Users need to first determine if the security camera needs to see in changing light conditions or low-light situations, said Li. Auto-iris lenses work better for changing light conditions, and black/white or day/night security cameras are suitable for low-light environments.

Locations of where cameras are installed must also be considered. "Installers should consider how far and wide cameras need to cover because the size of the image sensor and the type of lens used also determine how far the cameras can see," said Li. Usually, to fully secure the outside of a building, one speed dome with five to six fixed domes would be enough, said Li. Installers must make sure if the chosen rugged cameras satisfy installation needs.

Covers and casings must be attached seamlessly, and attention should be paid on the camera's casing material and its waterproof capability, said Lee.

Whether cameras have good overall system performance and adjustable lenses is also important. "Users should make sure that casings are not too thin and covers are of the right material. The cameras should have at least three-axils to allow the cameras to turn to different directions," Lee said. Rust can also be prevented by quality paint.

Several challenges are hindering the uptake of rugged cameras.

First, rugged cameras are still largely used in project-based installations. The market for rugged cameras, especially explosion- and bullet-proof cameras, is limited, said Hsu. There are only so many project-based installations that require such cameras.

Rugged technology developments also involve high costs in casing developments. "Security is already a niche market. Without significant demand for such products, many companies are concerned with the huge R&D investments in the latest technology," said Hsu.

Even with the advent of IP, some companies are still using the same analog casing models for network cameras. "The first challenge which manufacturers face when installing network cameras into existing vandal-proof casings is limited space," said Huang. Since space within camera casings must be big enough for network camera's modules and lines, companies could invest in a new casing dedicated for network cameras. However, it would be a very expensive production, Huang said.

Built-in IR LEDs for low-light surveillance are becoming popular among users. However, IR LEDs might cause reflections and prevent cameras from seeing. Luckily, most companies today already have the know-how in terms of minimizing or resolving the effect, said Lee.

Future Trends
IP technology is rapidly developing, but when it comes to rugged cameras, analog cameras still hold the larger market share. "Many installations prefer analog rugged cameras because of price," said Lee.

Sales of rugged dome cameras with built-in IR LEDs, speed domes and rugged box cameras will increase, and so does the use of H.264 compression.

Vandal-proof dome cameras with WDR will also become trendy, although such technology still requires improvements, said Tsai. Last, demand for long-distance viewing is growing. With advanced sensor technology, vandal-proof cameras' viewing distance can now reach 50 kilometers, said Huang.

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