Alternative Uses for CCTV

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The Other Side of Using CCTV

Nearly all the articles and examples published about CCTV relate to security applications. However, there are many far more interesting uses where imagination and flare can bring immediate and tangible benefits. So, in this issue we are looking at non-security applications for CCTV. Many of these applications were one off requirements, which for a purchased installation would have been impossibly expensive. The solution was the short term hire of a system with temporary cabling, this made it affordable for the customer and very profitable to the installer.

Time lapse recording for animating plasticine puppets

The original experimental animation of plasticine puppets was made using a time lapse video recorder and replayed in real time. The rest is history.

Carrying out a traffic survey for a town centre regeneration

A town was planning a major reconstruction of the town centre, one problem though, was that it was also an intersection of two main trunk roads and three local roads. An analysis of traffic flow was obviously a necessity and the usual method was for observers to sit by each junction and count the vehicles passing. It was considered that this would be expensive and not very accurate to cover a complete week's traffic twenty four hours a day. Another problem was that although traffic flow could be counted at junctions, it would be difficult to determine where it went off.

The solution proposed was a CCTV system to monitor the traffic flow. There was a multi-storey car park right in the centre of the intersection where cameras could be mounted covering every junction. To purchase such a system would have been very expensive (although not prohibitively so) for just a couple of weeks. The answer was to hire the complete system on a short term contract.

The system consisted of eight fixed monochrome cameras, connected to a multiplexer and 12 hour time lapse video recorder. The installation would be temporary with cables simply laid along the roof, therefore, 24 volt cameras were used to eliminate the need for the expense of complying with wiring regulations. This made a significant reduction in the potential installation costs.

Two tapes were used each day to provide a continuous record of traffic for the seven days. The tapes could then be analysed in significant detail including the types of vehicles and the routes taken in and out of the intersection. This proved to be not only a cost effective solution but provided far more useful data than a manual survey could achieve.

Monitoring traffic on a bridge

This was similar to the first example, in that a very old bridge could no longer take two-way traffic and a bypass was needed. Once again a time lapse VCR and two cameras provided far more information on traffic flow than manual logs could have provided.

Recording inside a baking oven

A large bakery was producing thousands of Danish type pastries every night for distribution to a chain of high street shops. The pastries were conveyed on a wire mesh chain conveyor through the oven and discharged onto a flat belt conveyor to cool and pass to packing.

On rare occasions, maybe four or five times a year, instead of discharging, the pastries jammed at the transfer with the following pastries piling up behind. It only needed a couple of minutes for the entire oven and feed line to be a complete mess of uncooked, overcooked pastry filling the space. Not only was a complete night's production lost, but it needed several days to clean up the mess and start production again. The repercussions could be that it was not just the Danish pastry sales that were lost but confidence in the company would be diminished. On every occasion, the conveyors and drives were stripped down, inspected and reassembled, but nothing untoward was found.

Again the solution was simple and temporary. A small camera was fitted in a water-cooled housing and mounted inside the oven, viewing the discharge area. This was connected to an 8-hour video recorder and the entire production shift recorded. The tape was simply overwritten each night there was no incident. It was over two months before disaster struck again. However, this time there was a video from inside the oven.

Detailed analysis of the tape produced an answer that could never have been found by any other means. There was a small kink on one side of the conveyor chain, and a small flaw in one of the driving sprockets. Due to the gear ratios and a fluid coupling the possibility of the mesh kink meeting the sprocket flaw was thousands to one. To make the incidence even more remote, this coincidence had to occur just as the first batch of pastry emerged from the oven, once it was flowing there was no problem. However, it was determined that this was in fact what had occurred. It was decided to leave the camera in place permanently, but once cured the problem, never presented itself again and they all lived happily ever after.

Recording the birth of a gorilla in a zoo at night

Apparently gorillas are very private animals, particularly when expecting a birth. The BBC wildlife programme wanted to record the events leading up to and after the birth, but the problem was during the night when any illumination would be unacceptable. The solution was to use an infrared illuminator with an 850 nanometer filter which would be totally unobtrusive with an infrared sensitive camera and time lapse VCR. The result was the first recorded birth of a gorilla in captivity.

Making a wildlife program in an isolated area using a model helicopter

Many exotic locations for wildlife filming are too remote or inaccessible to reach on foot or from conventional helicopters. One solution was to fit a miniature camera and radio transmitter to a small model helicopter. This was radio controlled and comparatively unobtrusive to the local wildlife, creating unique footage of film.

Reproducing the infrared vision of a goldfish

A university was studying the ability of fish to apparently ‘see’ and navigate through murky water. The theory was that goldfish had vision that was sensitive to infra light. It would seem that where the visible part of the spectrum was largely reflected by water, infra light penetrates further. To simulate this, a camera was fitted with a filter that restricted its sensitivity to only the infrared part of the spectrum. An infrared illuminator was directed from above and the views from the camera noted. I never saw the results of this and don’t know what, if anything, was proven. It was interesting to set up and different from run-of-the-mill CCTV.

Safety at Grand Prix racing

After the tragic accident of Nicki Lauder at The Nurburg Ring in Germany, Grand Prix racing drivers banned the track for major events. In May 1994 a new Nurburg Ring was opened with a computer-designed track and many new safety measures. The particular item of interest is a Geutebruck system of cameras connected back to a video motion detection system in the control room. Each camera monitors an area of the track, with zones defined alongside the track. If a car leaves the track it is detected and a view of the area instantly displayed at the control room and the appropriate action can be set into motion. If it is an accident, emergency teams can be directed to the scene immediately, even saving seconds can make the difference between life and death. The system would also detect a spectator straying onto the trackside. If a car leaves the track and rejoins the race, the system is automatically reset.

There are many other examples of the innovative use of CCTV, other than security, such as:

Production control in factories.

In a stage show to see obscured parts of a set.

Use at football stadia.

Arial photography from a hot air balloon.

Many of these applications require some lateral thinking and flexibility on the part of installation companies, maybe this is what is lacking today. Many of these systems have provided excellent value for money for the end user and can be very profitable for the installer.

This chapter is supplied by Mike Constant and was originally published in CCTV Today. Mike is the author of 'The Principles & Practice of CCTV' which is generally accepted as the benchmark for CCTV installation in the UK.