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Solar Power, AI Allow Much Wider Use for New Genetec Cameras

Solar power means the cameras can be placed in more locations, while AI means police can search more easily for vehicle type rather than just license plate number. It’s a trend law enforcement has been moving toward.

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Source: Genetec
Genetec, a major provider of video and security solutions worldwide, is launching a new solar-powered camera to help police find vehicles — a signal of law enforcement’s move toward cameras that are easier to deploy and place anywhere.

The new camera-and-software package is called Cloudrunner, and for Genetec it’s a step from traditional hardwired license plate-reading cameras to solar-powered cameras that come with AI capabilities meant to identify many attributes of a vehicle.

So, for example, police could use the cameras to search for a red pickup truck rather than searching for the truck’s license plate.

“The average person as a witness doesn’t know it’s A-B-C, one, two, three, four, right? They know it was a red pickup truck,” said Larry Legere, director of AutoVu for Genetec. “So we really wanted to make this intuitive from a software standpoint, to start the searching based on criteria.”

It’s a big leap forward in how these cameras are used. License plate readers are extremely common in the U.S., especially in big cities — the Brennan Center for Justice has reported that about three-quarters of cities with populations greater than 100,000 use them. But these are often expensive to deploy and require a dedicated power source, limiting where they can be placed.

Using small solar panels as an independent power source allows them to be placed virtually anywhere the city has access to, and the maturation of AI technology allows police much greater flexibility in how they use them. Over time, for example, Genetec will be able to work on its algorithms to allow police to search for attributes on vehicles such as a dent in a door, a bumper sticker, the presence of a bike rack or a tow hitch.

And most of it can all be done in the cloud. The Cloudrunner camera itself contains the hardware necessary to determine whether something is a vehicle or not — it only “turns on” to capture imagery when it knows there’s a vehicle in frame — and then uses built-in 4G LTE to send it back to the database wirelessly. From there, the company’s software processes the image and tags attributes in the cloud.

So updates will rarely need to target the cameras themselves; only when the company is tweaking the algorithm for identifying what is and isn’t a vehicle would it need to update the cameras.

“What we’re doing in the camera is detecting the vehicle — ‘This is a vehicle. It’s not a bird, it’s not a dog, it’s a vehicle,’” Legere said.

Civil rights advocates have criticized the proliferation of such cameras as a means of mass surveillance, especially when there is often little transparency around where the cameras are placed as well as what they’re used for and how often.

The increasing flexibility of these cameras, then, represents even broader usage. However, some companies are beginning to “bake in” certain transparency, privacy and oversight measures to their tools. Flock Safety, which recently launched a gunshot detection sensor meant to provide audio triggers to turn on its solar-powered cameras, offers its law enforcement customers a free transparency portal with information such as the number of cameras the agency operates and who it shares data with. Axon, which sells a dash-mounted camera for reading license plates, commissioned an independent study of the technology to identify ethical issues before launching it.

For its part, Genetec’s use of vehicle identification triggers is designed to prevent the camera from capturing unnecessary imagery of, for example, pedestrians and bicyclists. And Legere said the company provides tools for law enforcement to meet whatever transparency and privacy requirements they are subject to — for example, deleting different types of data after a certain number of days as determined by policy.

Legere said a big part of the competitive advantage the company has in selling the camera is in the fact that it integrates seamlessly with the company’s other existing products. Genetec is a very large company, with a presence in more than 159 countries and more than 22,500 customers. It also sells other software to law enforcement, including its digital evidence management system Clearance. So customers using both will be able to easily bring in images from the cameras when working on a case.

“I think what is going to make ours different than our competitors is our other product lines, whether that be access control or video or we have a product called Clearance, which is all about case management,” he said. “So that unified solution, taking an easy infrastructure project like the solar deployment and then tying it with our other product lines, really is going to be a differentiator for us.”

The product’s standard pricing is a subscription of $2,495 per camera per year. Software is included in the price, regardless of number of cameras.
Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.