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Freelance journalist

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Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
February 17, 2023


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Situational awareness

Laser detection challenges camera based analytics for surveillance and people tracking applications

Using light detection and ranging to detect and track people and objects could be the next big thing in situational awareness, as Ron Alalouff reports.

LIDAR – Light Detection And Ranging – is a technology similar to radar, but uses laser light rather than radio waves to determine the position, size, shape and dimensions of people and objects. Unlike video cameras which are passive and rely on light to detect, see and track, LIDAR is an active system sending pulses of light to pinpoint objects to an accuracy of around 2cm, measuring the time for the reflected light to return to the receiver and sending back a range of data. The technology is commonly used to make high resolution maps and 3-D models, and is used to help control autonomous vehicles.

LiDAR-PeopletrackingAnalytics-23Outsight is a company which supplies software to decode the raw data from LIDAR sensors, providing actionable information which can be utilised by a Video Management System in security and monitoring applications. Among its reference sites is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, where its 3D smart monitoring system is used to provide information on crowd flows, people flows and their interaction with airport facilities – part of the smart airport project which aims to optimise passenger journeys through the airport.

“It’s not easy to track thousands of people in real time using just cameras, though that’s what we are doing with the LIDAR sensors at Charles de Gaulle,” says Outsight’s CEO, Raul Bravo. “The sensors are capturing data about where things are, which makes it much easier to combine data from multiple sensors. But there are many things you can’t do with LIDAR, so cameras have their place.”

Alternative to cameras?

Bravo says his company’s technology is not designed to compete head on with camera-based video analytics, but rather to provide an alternative where detailed and precise information on people and objects is required. “Similar to radar, our technology enables the positioning and definition of people and objects. In security applications it can help minimise false positives, and it is less susceptible to weather, poor light and partial obscuration – such as from trees and bushes. You can’t really do that with cameras alone, as they can’t tell the difference between an object that is big and far away, and one that is small and close.”

Another advantage of the technology (or disadvantage, depending on your viewpoint) is that it does not capture personal information such as facial features. Although this means it cannot be used with facial recognition technology, it does go some way in addressing privacy concerns, such as those that were recently aired in relation to the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024.

“Outsight’s biggest market is in people flow monitoring, followed by intelligent transportation (tracking vehicles on streets, highways and car parks as part of a smart city) and then security – a market which the company is now seriously looking at.”

Bravo says that LIDAR sensors come in different types and have different characteristics. “There is no standard for this technology, so we are creating standardised open protocols from the variety of proprietary protocols out there. Some LIDAR sensors, for example, are ideal for outdoor, harsh environments. That’s why people like us facilitate the integration of the most suitable sensor or combination of sensors, depending on the specific characteristics of a site, rather like you would choose a selection of different cameras depending on the features of a site.”

Although they have been coming down in price over the last year or two, says Bravo, LIDAR sensors can be two or three times more expensive than surveillance cameras. In typical applications, however, you might need five times as many cameras as sensors to cover the same area and density of people, so on a total cost of ownership basis, a sensor-based system can compete with a camera-based one.

People tracking with zone of interest from Outsight

Smart cities

Outsight’s biggest market is in people flow monitoring, followed by intelligent transportation (tracking vehicles on streets, highways and car parks as part of a smart city) and then security – a market which the company is now seriously looking at. It’s also working on sports venues such as those at the Paris Olympics, and other sectors such as trade shows and retail. Casinos, for example, could be a fruitful vertical, going beyond security and into ‘operational excellence’.

In addition to systems at Charles de Gaulle airport, the company’s software is installed in safety monitoring systems at traffic intersections in Bellevue, Washington state, and in many car parks.

Bravo says the LIDAR sector is now expanding rapidly, after previously being considered too expensive compared to cameras. Although Bravo is reluctant to divulge the company’s current turnover, he says it has raised €45 million in two funding rounds and now employs close to 100 people.

“I think the time has come for the take up of LIDAR systems for people monitoring, transportation and security applications,” says Bravo. “The types of potential application are only really limited by your imagination.”


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