While the title might set off alarm bells for some of you folks it isn’t that bad an idea to have eyes on everything and everyone all the time. Surveillance is sometimes a necessity and sometimes considered a belligerent action on part of the authority but we’re not here to judge. The benefits of having such a system are undoubtedly numerous and we’ve listed a few scenarios below.
One simply can’t ignore the importance of having an eye on your precious belongings. Keeping a constant eye on your house especially when there are people other than you at home is not only unnecessary but is also perceived as downright paranoid and creepy, however, it might be necessitated if you are a bit suspicious of the person with whom you leave your house in charge(kinda ironic given that you don’t trust the person your trusted your house with). Maybe you don’t want your house to turn into another “Project X” or you simply want to know if your home has been burgled or which one of your neighbours steals your newspaper. What about when you’ve entrusted your child with a new nanny? You might want to keep an eye on them for a first few weeks or maybe you’re going away for a week and you couldn’t find someone to look after your pet.
The main interface is simple and self explanatory
Small offices often tend to be short on an operating budget and hiring an HR team to keep an eye on your work force might not be feasible. In this case, you can not only have an eye on everyone but also monitor each employee’s monitor individually. Instead of going in for an expensive professional setup which could set you back by a few lakh rupees you could use an open-source software like we have and get everything done for as low as `500.
If your work environment is prone to catching fire or your assembly line has a few robots failing every other week then you could have a monitoring system in place which would detect a lack of movement(indicating stopped machinery) or detect small fires and alert you before it can get big enough to damage your equipment.
The person who wrote the software we’re going to be using wrote it for spotting UFOs and ghosts. We can understand how this is possible because cameras observe a much wider spectrum of light than humans do and the software is very sensitive even to minor changes in local lighting within a scene. But why do it is a question best left unanswered. Also it could be used for keeping an eye out for local wildlife near a campsite, however, this would be difficult given that there would be a lot of ambient motion in such an area which means your system will be triggered even if a hummingbird flies by.
For this setup we’ll be using
An open-source software which does all the work of analysing each and every camera connected to your system and recording streams once a trigger condition has been satisfied. iSpy has a few plugins available including one for facial recognition and another for number plate recognition, though you may need to do some hands-on coding to enable recognising local number plates for India given the urge for some of us to “pimp up” our number plates. There are more plugins available and enough documentation for you to come up with your own plugins.
Set alerts for when the camera is triggered
An ordinary web camera
If you’ve got the proper drivers installed then iSpy will pick up a feed immediately and that’s all you need from your camera manufacturer’s side. Ensure any power saving features like auto-shutdown are turned off. And utilising more than one software for the same hardware might cause problems with the feed.
The hardware requirements for a basic 4 camera setup consists of a Windows OS(64-bit version would be preferred for a setup with more than 6 cameras running at 320x240 resolution), 2GB RAM, and an Intel i3 processor. The more cameras you add the greater your requirements will be and increasing the resolution of the video feed also requires more resources. If you have a setup with all cameras pulling full HD content then be prepared to switch to an i5 or greater. Don’t worry about your computer crashing as you add more cameras the software limits the amount of CPU cycles it can consume so if the load on the processor is too much then it will scale down the resolution and wait for the CPU load to go below the threshold. But if you do have more than one unused computers lying around then you can assign a few cameras to each machine thus distributing the load. Hard drive space depends upon the amount of cameras connected and the configuration since an “always on” setup would require much more storage space than one triggered by motion sensing. And as always the resolution of each camera too matters.
Setup a schedule for the system to turn on
Setting it up
1. Plug in your web camera and install the drivers for your OS.
2. Download iSpy and install it with all the plugins that you’d be needing. Avoid unnecessary plugins if you are never going to be using them.
3. If you wish to connect to microphones and cameras that are hooked to other devices then you’ll need iSpy Server installed.
4. Setup your web login if you wish to access the cameras remotely or on the same network. Remote access over the internet requires you to obtain the basic “iSpy Connect” subscription costing $7.95, which goes towards running a server through which your content will be streamed. You could get around this by working on the source code which they’ve graciously provided on their website but for the amount they are charging that hardly seems worth the effort.
5. Click on the Add button in the main interface and select the camera which you wish to monitor. Once you click on OK you’ll be provided with another window where you get to adjust the parameters of your camera like the resolution at which it will record, the directory where you get to store the recorded stream. For features like motion capture and facial recognition you can set the sensitivity so as to remove ambient movement beyond the trigger threshold or else you’ll have an always on camera. If you wish to focus on just a small region of the entire scene then you can drag a box around it and all the algorithms will apply to just that little area.
Tweak the motion detection parameters
6. Other than recording the stream once motion is detected, iSpy can even send you an SMS, an email alert or even a tweet. Since carrier charges are incurred the SMS feature is offered as an add-on to a normal subscription.
7. For PTZ(Pan Tilt Zoom) cameras you can set the cameras to follow an object when it is detected, thus, allowing you to cover a wider canvas using just one device.
8. The storage is local primarily but you can upload your captured streams to your youtube account so that manual management of the recorded material is not required. It’s more essential for high-value establishments. Then again, these establishments would likely go for a professional setup which can be held accountable.
9. That’s it. Now while away while your surveillance system keeps an eye out for you and lets you know whenever anything worthwhile is detected.