Why Augmented Reality (AR) will transform Physical Security
Anticipated for decades by science-fiction movies, this technology is finally becoming useful and available for early adopters in 2016. In the next 3-5 years, AR will become widely available and affordable for consumers and enterprises alike. AR has the potential to change many aspects of our lives, including Physical Security. AR will grant personnel instant access to critical information, allow instant and intuitive control over equipment, and ultimately allow organizations to save money by eliminating costly infrastructure such as video walls.
Along the way there will be a lot of hype. I’ll conclude with some of the most important limitations expected of the first batch of products coming to market in 2016.
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented Reality devices are headsets or tablets that superimpose a computer-generated image on someone’s view of the real world. The best way to understand it is to look at the Microsoft Hololens video below.
Example 1: Microsoft Hololens
Example 2: Google Project Tango
Anticipated Benefits for Physical Security
#1: Project and interact with any information, anywhere
Instead of looking at information through monitor, you’ll be able to walk around and look and interact with information attached to any object or surface. By waiving your hands in front of your face, you’ll be able to bring up more information and control equipment.
A Security Director getting an emergency call in the middle of the night will no longer need to drive to his work place to manage a crisis. Instead, he will simply put on his glasses, go to his kitchen, and see the information projected on his table, on his walls and ceiling.
It will feel as if you had tablets or giant touch screens floating anywhere you want. For instance, you’ll be able to overlay access control and video over any door in your facility, to instantly see who most recently accessed, bring up most relevant videos, mark a card stolen, etc.
Ultimately, this will make video walls obsolete and greatly reduce the need for workstations. Unlike a video wall, that shows the same information to everyone in the room, each person will be able to see its own augmented reality, based on what’s most relevant and actionable for that person at that moment. Classified information will literally become “for your eyes only”.
#2: X-Ray Vision and gaze tracking
AR can also give the impression to see through walls. For instance, facility managers and security integrators will be able to see network cables, pipes and other equipment hidden behind a wall or under the floor. You will be able to bring up live and archived video from nearby rooms. In an airport or port, you’ll be able to stare a moment at a distant target to automatically bring up zoomed video(s) focused on the target, through an integration with PTZ cameras on the ground and on UAVs.
Tracking the gaze of a person will enable smarter algorithms to pinpoint exactly what information you’re interested in, right now.
#3: Precise indoor positioning
One underlying technology that makes AR possible is extremely accurate positioning, that tracks the position and orientation of an AR device and it user, within the environment. Think of it as ultra-precise GPS that works indoor. This information, by itself, will be extremely helpful in increasing productivity, responding to incidents faster, etc.
First, this will eliminate a lot of radio chatter, normally spent informing dispatchers of one’s position. It will enable more precise and faster dispatching based on who is available, where.
Precise indoor positioning will lead to increased security, e.g. by automatically assessing some alarms. It will become possible for security systems to match motion alarms with nearby resources, to only alert security operators when there is motion while no guard is around.
Eventually, an entire team’s movements could be optimized in real-time, by sending visual instructions to each person within their AR view of the world.
#4: Capture of 3D video, 3D maps and measurements
Another underlying technology of AR is the capability to capture, in real-time, the 3D (depth) information in front of the AR device.
This can improve collaboration, by allowing team members to instantly see through each other’s “eyes”.
This depth information will allow multiple viewpoints to be precisely combined in 3D, and looked at from different angles, e.g. from a bird’s eye view.
The depth information can also make some types of video analytics (e.g. head counting) much more accurate, simpler to implement, and less prone to false alarms. 3D capture will become a feature of security cameras.
By simply walking around a facility, anyone will be able to create or update a precise 3D map of the environment. 3D maps can increase situational awareness, and combined with advanced algorithms, can help automate or accelerate decision making.
Microsoft and Google are not the only industry giants betting big on augmented reality:
Magic Leap, a Florida start-up, is the strongest contender to Microsoft Hololens for augmented reality headset. They raised over $500M from Google Ventures, Qualcomm and others.
Apple hasn’t announced anything yet, but their acquisitions of RealSense ($345M in 2013) and MetaIO (2015) make it obvious that they are working on an Augmented Reality headset and/or phones.
Intel and partner Daqri
Intel and its partner Daqri showed off a high-tech hardhat that packs in augmented reality features to increase workplace safety.
Vendors currently focused on VR (Virtual Reality), such as Oculus (owned by Facebook) and Samsung, are also likely to announce Augmented Reality devices in 2016-2017.
This industry interest should come as no surprise as Augmented Reality has a real potential to completely displace smart phones as the main computing interface over the next 5-10 years.
The first versions of devices coming out in 2016 and early 2017 will likely be very exciting for early adopters and developers, but of limited practical use due to limitations such as:
- Battery life – most likely limited to 2-3 hours of active use, less than a day of standby.
- Field of view – the image will appear as a small window in the middle of your field of view, limited to 30 degrees. Until it’s addressed in years to come, this will severely limit the feeling of immersion.
- Limited range and requires 3D mapping – The Google Tango devices have been demonstrated successfully in a large museum but the environment must be mapped and kept up-to-date. This will likely take significant effort to get started.
- Indoor use only – Some of the features rely on infrared lasers that don’t work reliably if exposed to direct sunlight. Most of the first devices will be expensive and most likely not waterproof or shock-proof.
- Interference with each other – some AR devices will not support having multiple users using them in the same spot at once.
- Heavy and bulky – they will most likely be uncomfortable for more than an hour at a time
- Limited software – software will need to be optimized to unlock most of the potential. This will take years and significant financial investment, especially for large security manufacturers that don’t have the 3D expertise and prefer to wait until a critical mass of devices and users are on the market.
- Device cost – the first Microsoft Hololens (development kit) cost $2,500.
All of these limitations will be overcome in due time. Take the price, for example. $2,500 may sound like a lot, but keep in mind that you’re basically talking about the first generation of a very light, high-resolution, super-fast computer equipped with advanced sensors, that you’re putting on your face. Moore’s law isn’t what it was, but there’s no physical or business reason why the price wouldn’t come down to $150 within ten years, just like it did for smart phones.