Many people have given security cameras a place in their home and now enjoy the advantages of security and convenience provided by those systems. Increasingly, however, we are beginning to see people expand that coverage to include their vacation homes (or sites).
Many of these systems have the ability to see in a low-light or even a No-light environment; to employ sophisticated motion-detection algorithms; to sense external events and act accordingly; or to provide images or image-bearing email alerts around the world via the internet, either scheduled or upon alarm.
In addition to sensing external events and reacting accordingly, such as swinging a camera around to a preset position to view an opening door, these systems may also interact with external systems, enabling the camera system to, for instance, trigger an external event in the home alarm system, thus setting off yet another chain of events which may ultimately include one or more phone calls and/or audible alarms.
Further, these systems can provide video or images to a recorder, to a passenger waiting for his or her flight from an airport virtually anywhere in the world, or to a television anywhere in the home. And, if need be, this can be done wirelessly (from the camera system?s perspective). It is this connectivity that makes current systems so attractive for the vacation home.
Camera systems range from the very modest sub-$100 (indoor) camera, cable and TV adapter, to multi-thousand-dollar systems that function autonomously in an outdoor, no-light environment, respond to external events and/or commands, record video, and are probably connected to both a network and the internet.
Our experience has been that the typical system found in a vacation home falls somewhere in-between, having at least one PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom controllable) camera, possibly with several supporting fixed-view cameras, and is connected to the internet through a video server and a DSL telephone line or, increasingly, a wireless internet connection ? even a cell phone or a PC?s wireless Aircard !
Such a system permits the homeowner to ?visit? the home electronically at any time, and the PTZ capability enables the viewer to position the camera lens (optionally, under password control) so that the entire room is in coverage. And that coverage may be enhanced with one or more fixed-view cameras as well.
At the heart of such a system lies the camera, of course. It is, after all, the camera that provides the images, and this makes camera selection (and possibly, lens selection) such an important issue. The owner must take into consideration system requirements such as coverage, environment, lighting, and control.
But if the camera is the heart of the system, it is the video server (if the system includes a server) that is the system?s brain. The primary function of the video server is to digitize the analog video provided by the camera, and make that digitized video available to a computer, a network, a recorder, or the internet.
But in addition, the server optionally provides such services as password protection, FTP client services (image uploads to FTP sites), FTP server functions (file access for custom-designed applications), image-bearing email, camera control, and interface with external devices or systems.
And a few servers, Axis for instance (www.axis.com), go beyond the menu-driven features to offer an even higher degree of flexibility through PHP scripting, shell scripting, and task management (see http://www.axis.com/techsup/cam_servers/dev/php.htm). Axis servers are surprisingly powerful machines in a small package, and greatly enhance system capability.
This scripting enables the server to provide a functionality tailored to the owner?s requirements, functionality matched by few others.
For instance, scripting enables the server to support cameras it otherwise could not, and it enables the development of industry-standard browser tools for a variety of tasks such as logging visitors, monitoring camera performance or decoding camera/server communications (some cameras communicate with the user via serial streams between the camera and server).
Further, scripting enables the user to have a large degree of control over the appearance of the server ?page?. This might be done to create a server page consistent with a site?s established ?look and feel?; to post a caption or logo identifying the owner or the scene currently in coverage; to display information acquired by the server from an external system (?window has been opened?, etc); to remove the server manufacturer?s logo; or simply to change the background color and text font to something more appealing.
So for many people, cameras do indeed have a place in the home, providing both convenience and security: convenience in that they permit the homeowner to, say, watch for a guest?s arrival while simultaneously watching a television program (both images on the same screen using the TV?s PiP feature); security in the sense of enabling the homeowner to keep an eye (and an ear) on the children in the swimming pool while preparing dinner in the kitchen or working in the garage.
In the case of a vacation home, they permit the homeowner to look in on the vacation home from halfway around the world if need be. And they provide the owner with peace of mind in knowing, for instance, that if a door or window is opened, the camera will swing around to provide a dated, time-stamped video record of anyone entering the home.
And, ThermoSight has twice assisted people concerned with security issues at the site while their vacation home was under construction. Autonomous surveillance cameras, small enough to be all but invisible even when standing beside one, and linked by a wireless network, were placed around the site (and in one case, along the road to the site) to create a time-stamped record of visitors.
Certainly the most enjoyable vacation-home application we?ve ever worked on was recently completed here in Seattle. This ?vacation home? is the sort that can carry the homeowner (as well as guests and crew) around the world if desired. And the camera system aboard this 90-foot yacht is an excellent example of the theme of security and convenience.
There are nine cameras aboard the yacht including a PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom) dome camera in both the engine and generator rooms; a PTZ camera on the fantail; and atop the mast, a Stealth 301-2 PTZ, a high-performance camera in every respect ? the civilian version of our military?s MOUT cameras.
This particular Stealth offers a 144x zoom capability affording the bridge and everyone aboard a commanding view of the surrounding area. It also offers excellent low-light performance and even no-light performance (it?s sensitive to covert (940nm) IR illumination).
These nine cameras are connected to a digital video recorder (DVR) which digitizes and records the video, and through an Ethernet connection, makes that video available to network viewers both aboard the yacht and around the world via the internet, using the yacht?s satellite-internet connection.
The DVR is a very sophisticated device offering each viewer the choice of viewing live or recorded video, and it can support several viewers simultaneously. (I use the indeterminate term ?several? because as the number of viewers increases, performance begins to become an issue, but certainly four or five simultaneous viewers would not present a problem).
The DVR also permits network viewers to control the PTZ cameras using an industry-standard browser, or from the proprietary software provided by the manufacturer. In this particular case, the control signals travel right up the video cable to the camera, eliminating the need for redundant cabling or wireless link.
From the DVR, the analog video is also fed to the modulators below, and from there, is distributed to the staterooms and common areas throughout the yacht. This permits the viewing of video, live or recorded, from pretty much anywhere aboard the yacht. Whether it?s the instrumentation in the engine room, guests lounging on the fantail, the fish swimming beneath the boat, or the people aboard another yacht half a mile away, the view?s available to the guests.
And as mentioned a moment ago, all of this is recorded so that when the visit is over, the owner is able to provide each guest with a CD containing a video record of a particularly memorable event.
And, leaving aside the details for obvious reasons, we can see that the vessel?s security is also well-served by this system which is functional in all lighting, and which provides a time-stamped video record of all vessels approaching the yacht, people boarding the yacht, day or night, and other similar events.
And via the Internet, this system permits people to monitor activity aboard the vessel without actually being aboard, themselves. This means that the owner would be able to visit the yacht at anchor from his office or from an airport halfway ?round the world. And as computers get smaller, he?ll be able to carry his computer in his shirt pocket and ?visit? the yacht whenever and wherever he wishes.
Hull at Vic Franck?s Boat Co. Seattle, WA
So ? Security and Convenience; It all comes down to that. We?ve seen in this and previous HomeToys articles that the camera system provides both to the homeowner.
Whether the system provides a view of the person at the door, the car coming up the driveway, the children playing in the pool, or the old dog sleeping beside the car in the garage, the system provides both security and convenience. For that reason, many people believe such a system definitely has a place in their home.