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Canon balances privacy, efficacy in CCTV demos

Peter Sayer | Oct. 16, 2015
Canon is experimenting with new CCTV tools that allow cameras to follow you everywhere you go -- or make them blind to your presence.

Canon ghost video 2
An image from a Canon surveillance camera (left) is processed (right) to hide people standing outside an area marked on the floor at the Canon Expo in Paris on Oct. 14, 2015. Credit: Peter Sayer

For a few days this week, one corner of Paris became one of the most closely surveilled in the city, as Canon showed what the future of CCTV might look like. 

The company demonstrated a system that respect privacy by only recording persons entering a restricted area, and another that can call up images from a network of cameras corresponding to a person of interest. 

Canon is increasingly moving beyond its core activities in copying/printing, medical imaging and photography, boosting its video surveillance activities with a number of acquisitions in recent years. In June 2014 Canon bought Danish video management and analytics vendor Milestone Systems, one of the largest players in that market, for an undisclosed sum then in February this year snapped up Swedish IP-camera manufacturer Axis for US$2.8 billion.

Although Canon already made surveillance cameras, those deals mean its network video solutions business can now also offer customers centralized and decentralized video processing capabilities.

Surveillance technologies of all kinds have had bad press of late, in large part due to their misuse by secretive government agencies. However, Canon is showing an awareness that people will accept increased surveillance if it is done in accordance with local privacy laws. 

Surveillance systems were among a broad range of existing products, ideas for future products, and way-out-there research projects on show at Canon Expo, an event the company put on for customers in Paris this week.

One of the demos showed how surveillance cameras can be used to precisely monitor a sensitive area -- a safe or cash till for example -- without recording images of people nearby. Such a system might be useful in a country where privacy laws prohibit the recording of people except for narrowly defined purposes such as theft prevention.

In the demo, a camera pointed at an open space in the middle of the booth, where one square meter of bright pink carpeting stood out from the surrounding gray. Two displays on the wall showed images of the booth, one directly from the camera, the other after processing by a server that also received data from a distance sensor mounted atop the main camera.

The processed image transformed anyone standing outside the square into a pale green ghost.

Systems designed only to monitor specific areas already exist, but they merely restrict the camera's field of view, either physically or electronically: Anyone walking in front of, or behind, the monitored zone would still be recorded as they crossed the camera's field of view. 

 

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