People Counting: Optex VC1020

For those designing and installing smartsystems, business intelligence represents added value. By delivering real-time data that a user can exploit to increase efficiencies within the business, the overall value of the solution is increased, and provides features that can be deployed for positive purposes. People-counting is often cited as a bonus for retail environments, with many thinking this is best achieved via video cameras. Optex (Europe) , however, disagrees.

There are some who will argue that security systems are a grudge purchase, that end users resent any investment in solutions designed to protect people, premises and property, and that the cheapest devices are required to have any hope of making a sale. This opinion is usually formed as a result of those involved offering systems which are basic, inflexible and unable to meet user expectations.

Modern security technology can – when professionally applied – deliver credible protection, added value, real-time data that can be used for security and management, and increasingly offers benefits that help realise genuine business efficiencies. When presented with these solutions, end users have a very different outlook and are typically willing to invest more to realise the enhanced performance.

In the surveillance world, the growth of on-camera Apps has made use of the additional processing power of many devices, and as a result enhanced functionality has become the order of the day. One function supported by many ‘platform’ devices is people counting.

Typically, surveillance cameras are optimised – both in terms of hardware and software – for the capture of images that allow visual identification. In the vast majority of cases, that is their primary role.

Therefore, if a standard surveillance camera is used for people counting, it could be argued that the device has not been optimised for the task being undertaken, and as a result accuracy could suffer.

A dedicated option

The VC-1020 is a dedicated people counting sensor from Optex. The device itself is manufactured by Giken Trastem, a specialist people and vehicle counting system manufacturer which is a part of the Optex group of companies.

The device is directly connected to Ethernet-based systems, and the sensor itself supports PoE connectivity. It uses patented analysis algorithms to create a virtual 3D monitored environment. The unit can be mounted at 2.3–4.5 metres, but can optionally be extended to 4.0–6.0 metres with a licence.

The monitored environment includes eight count lines. These are four lines, each with two directions. Counts can be organised to include multiple line segments, thereby allowing count filtering if there are directional options when entering the area.

The four lines effectively create a 3D ‘cube’ in the protected area, and this enhances the accuracy of the counting process. It also allows data to be captured which adds detail to peoples’ actions after entering the protected area, such as identifying in which direction targets tend to move. The result is that the device can deliver reports which not only include traffic counts and occupancy levels, but which identify flow from the point of entry.

Whilst the sensor uses video information to carry out counts, it is not reliant upon a high level of ambient illumination. Additionally, as it has been developed with retail environments in mind, the accuracy – quoted as above 95 per cent – is not affected by challenging lighting typical of retail establishments.

Users can access the real-time video to observe the counting environment and, if necessary, make appropriate adjustments to suit the site in question.

Reports can be sent to a server or to Cloud-based services. If network connectivity is lost, the sensor can save count information for 30 days on internal flash-memory.

With regard to configuration of the detection area, this can be carried out locally via a laptop or by remote log-in.

The virtual 3D cube can be mapped at any height. This allows discriminations to be applied which will, for example, remove small children, shopping trolleys, etc., from the counted figures. The detection area can also be adjusted to compensate for shade detections and other nuisance triggers.

Because the sensor uses four counting lines, it becomes possible to establish a ‘no count’ zone. For example, if someone enters the counting area, hesitates, and then leaves in the same direction they entered, a count will not be registered.

Only if they cross one of the other three designated counting lines will the figure be incremented. This ensures that people near to the entrance are not accidentally counted, as can be the case with more basic devices using a single count line.

Assessing the data

The VC-1020 is effectively a hardware sensor. Processing happens at the edge, as does the generation of data for reports. However, the sensor does not have a mechanism for sorting, displaying or managing the various reports. Instead, this is done via the user’s analytics ‘dashboard’ of choice. Data can be output in XML or CSV formats, and so can be managed by the majority of report-handling software packages as well as several Office-type programs.

Many businesses will already have mechanisms for assessing and managing workplace data. It therefore makes little sense to have people counting information – essentially a business intelligence data collection process – kept separate and a part of the security system.

Many of the cameras which deploy people-counting Apps store the count data in the camera itself, or push it to a webpage which must be accessed via a link with the camera. Some allow the data to be sent to a Cloud service, but this is often managed by the App developer and continuity – in the experience of Benchmark – is not certain.

If an end user already has an in-house dashboard which is used for business analytics, such as stock control, personnel deployment, buying trends, etc., then it makes sense for the people counting data to be included in this.

The Optex approach ensures that the VC-1020 can integrate with leading options as it uses standard data formats shared by a wide variety of devices. The manufacturer will also help to find an ideal GUI should the user be looking for something specific.

In summary

Video is increasingly being used to deliver business data, and in many cases it does this very well. Optex, however, believes that a dedicated people counting sensor, like the VC-1020, can enhance accuracy because it has been specifically designed for the task. If the data delivered is accurate, then the system will have greater value for the end user.

Benchmark Smart Solutions
Benchmark Smart Solutions is dedicated to supporting those seeking innovative and bespoke value-added solutions for business and the home environment. Through real-world field trials it assesses the potential available from current technologies and integrated systems. Benchmark Smart Solutions is produced by the team at Benchmark magazine.