Surveillance Society Redux

Posted on July 13th, 2009 by admin in Political Economy

In the taxi on our way to McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, we engaged the driver to learn a bit about the local business environment. One thing led to another and soon he’s explaining the taxi business. So he points out the very cleverly hidden DriveCam video cameras in the taxi.

From the DriveCam, Inc, web site:

“DriveCam is the only company that focuses on improving risky driving behavior by predicting and preventing crashes. DriveCam’s exception-based video event recorder is mounted on the windshield behind the rear-view mirror and captures sights and sounds inside and outside the vehicle. Exceptional forces (e.g. hard braking, swerving, collision, etc.) cause the recorder to save the critical seconds before and after the triggered event. Saved events are downloaded, analyzed and assigned a risk score to coach drivers and improve driving behavior and assess liability in collisions.”

More recently, DriveCam now ships its event recording video cameras with 3G cellular embedded wireless modules. These modules enable real-time review of recorded events in the vehicle. The initial purpose of the real-time wireless connectivity was to rapidly reduce the time required for drivers to dump their daily recorded events into the management’s video database at end of day. The vehicles could send the events as recorded, rather than employ a mass data transfer at end of day. Of course, this led to real time event monitoring. (DriveCam was launched in February 1998, and is financed with venture capital. DriveCam has received four patents for its design with additional patents pending.)

But Vegas also uses red light cameras in most intersections around the strip, according to my cabbie. These are two examples of Surveillance Society systems deployed.

How appropriate for us to learn of these systems, since we had just heard a fascinating lecture by Dr. Milton Friedman’s son David, a law professor at Santa Clara University. Friedman was discussing private and competitive legal systems. He pointed out that while the proliferation of video surveillance could be an invasion of privacy, it had the benefit of radically reducing disputes about the facts of what happened in various street conflicts.

From the RocketCap point of view, all this is more confirmation that the video surveillance business is a strong candidate for investing. This industry is going to have enormous technology and business growth, and this includes a new eco-system.

Notably, the video/audio hardware produces far more data than humans can monitor, and so the field of “video analytics software” has emerged. This software attempts to produce automatic face and object recognition and make certain kinds of decisions based on the inflow of images and sounds. For example, facial recognition has an enormous amount of academic, goernment and industrial research, but has quite limited results. Only certain frontal face views can be recognized, and turned away faces are harder to recognize. Also, the simple determination that a perimeter has been crossed by a human is exceptionally hard for software. Was it a dog? A snow mobile? A man?

These problems will eventually be solved, but video surveillance systems are improving rapidly in performance and cost, and we see nothing fundamental in view that can slow the growth of the Surveillance Society.

Leave a Reply

More News