Is Drone Aerial Surveillance Too Problematic?
Integrator looks for solution to high cost, pilot licensing requirement, and power limitations of commercial surveillance drones for clients.
Jason Knott · July 5, 2017
When Brian Levy says the “sky’s the limit” for potential applications of the new PLAS tethered video surveillance system from IC Realtime, he means it in both a literal and figurative sense.
Levy, president of Hero Security in Los Angeles since 2006, is adept at analyzing new technologies and applying them to real-world security solutions for his clients. Thus, Levy has a slew of potential applications for the new tethered Persistent Low Altitude Surveillance System (PLAS) system from IC Realtime, which he believes could quickly replace drones for many aerial security applications.
Hero Security consults and installs security systems in various commercial verticals, primarily in healthcare and energy. One of the company’s specialties is securing large outdoor areas with fully integrated security systems. Among its more unique outdoor projects is securing a massive, 1,000-acre solar field for EDF Renewable with integrated GPS coordinates so law enforcement could respond to these often remotely erected panels.
Another unique outdoor security application involved counting the number of feral pigs in the forest for the State of Kentucky. The state Department of Forestry was having difficulty using commercial motion detectors due to sunlight reflection and problems mounting the units for proper functionality.
The system was generated consistent false alarms. Levy built his own proprietary motion detector using three different sensors, then wrote a software program to analyze the actual direction in which the sensors were tripped to more accurately determine the pig count.
Other outdoor projects for Hero Security have included overseeing vineyards, wind generation fields and monitoring a car dealership parking areas. Overall, 75 percent of Hero Security’s projects are large-scale video surveillance.
“I really try to innovate and come up with interesting, working solutions,” says Levy humbly. “I understand wireless design and microwave technology, and how to apply them to get the results that you want. So I embrace outdoor projects. I love outdoor stuff. Complex outdoor projects are where I shine because I have multi-discipline background in computers, hardware, software, the Internet and networking. I can pull it all together and come up with some really neat solutions.”
Drone Limitations: Power, Costs, Licensing
Typically, Levy has turned to surveillance drones or pole-mounted cameras for those outdoor projects, knowing there is great value in obtaining aerial oversight protection on these types of properties. Indeed, Levy is a big fan of drones… he even races drones in his leisure time. But there are limitations to drone technology.
First, there are new FAA regulations requiring commercial drone operators to obtain a license to fly the drone. For end user security customers, that means someone on the security team has to obtain an expensive commercial drone pilot’s license, since the surveillance drone is deemed to be a commercial application. Secondly, commercial drone operators are required to maintain line-of-sight contact with the drone at all times. For geographically expansive applications like the ones Hero Security often addresses, that can be difficult if not downright impossible sometimes.
“You cannot program drones to fly somewhere, run a planned route on auto-pilot, then return. You can’t do it. It’s against the law,” says Levy.
Lastly, there is the matter of battery power.
“A typical drone today has a 20-minute flight lifespan. A bigger drone with a larger battery can stay up for 40 minutes. That’s it. After that time, the party is over,” he adds.
All of these limitations can add up. “Using drones can get very expensive,” notes Levy.
PLAS Stays Up for 3 Days
At ISC West in April, Levy got his first glimpse of the new PLAS technology from IC Realtime.
“When I saw it, I said, ‘This solves the drone problem.’ I love drones… I think they are fantastic. I wanted to incorporate them in my wind project, but the energy to power the drones is the major problem,” he says.
“With PLAS, I can put a balloon up for three days with no FAA license if I keep it under 300 feet in the air. I can run power up the tether. The camera is auto-stabilized so it does not shake. Even if the balloon is shaking, the camera corrects and stabilizes itself. That is the killer app of this product. The PLAS is a platform. Right now it has a directional camera but there is no reason you can’t put a 360- or 180-degree camera on it, or even a PTZ. The issue is the weight of the camera. If you can get the weight of the camera down, you can put any technology up there. Only the bottom part of PLAS is a camera. The top part has all the stabilization, the computer and the power. That is the guts of the PLAS where all the magic happens,” says Levy.
With his creative juices flowing, Levy is planning lots of new applications for the use of PLAS, such as use by TV news crews to get nice aerial images, or farmers who want to measure their crop growth, overlooking mining areas, watching college campuses, or even providing security for a music festival.
On the residential side, it is suitable for monitoring large estates that have security teams. Levy envisions scenarios where a PLAS is elevated over an estate with a 360-degree camera to create an overwatch system. He even plans to network multiple PLAS systems together.
“From a surveillance standpoint it is cost effective. I can see end users buying multiple units. It’s a no brainer if you marry it with analytics, like heat mapping or different types of intrusion detection, such as securing the perimeter of stadium with a virtual analytic fence,” he plans.
“What I think is so significant about PLAS is that it gives you large area aerial surveillance and overwatch, and basically it can stay up for three days,” says Levy. “So having that ability to cover a large area like a stadium, an industrial factory or a car dealership where people are breaking into cars all the time, the PLAS solves the problem. This solves a bonafide problem that right now the only other real alternative is using helicopters. People are going to discover uses for PLAS that we cannot even think about.”
Levy has been working with IC Realtime products since he started Hero Security. “They are innovators. They are always coming out with new interesting technologies, whether is their 360-degree cameras or something like PLAS,” he concludes.
Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org
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