By Arlen Schweiger · November 8, 2016
This article was originally featured in CS’ sister publication, Security Sales & Integration.
HANGZHOU, China — For a country steeped in thousands of years of tradition, China is at the same time as forward-thinking as it gets when it comes to areas such as technology.
Witnessing the enthusiasm for cutting-edge tech, as well as the seemingly massive opportunity for Sino-U.S. economic relationships was just part of the premise behind a recent press tour to China hosted by Hikvision, whose wares nicely tie together old and new as they could be spotted in use from the most modern downtown hotels near the company’s headquarters here all the way out to the Great Wall (talk about perimeter protection).
Besides Hangzhou, the visit included stops in Shanghai and Beijing, where media members participated in a press conference with Hikvision CEO Yangzhong Hu and toured the company’s booth during the Security China 2016 trade show at the China International Exhibition Center.
Along with traditional video surveillance products, Hikvision highlighted its latest work in offerings such as drones (now on third-generation solutions), robotics and analytics.
Hangzhou is the onetime capital of China and is now its tech capital, earning a reputation as the country’s “Silicon Valley.” The city is home to Hikvision, as well as tech giants such as Alibaba and security industry competitor Dahua Technology.
Having generated much business and growth activity in preparation for hosting the G20 and B20 international summits in September, Hangzhou is also home to major construction and expansion — and cranes everywhere — underscoring this tech explosion. Hikvision can count itself among the charge, as across the street from its current twin-tower HQ building, another two office towers are already far along in their construction and anticipated to be completed next year.
Inside the headquarters, the ground floor features a showroom of Hikvision’s various solutions and applications including:
- IP cameras
- analog and HD-TVI products
- mobile surveillance
- intelligent analytics applications and “deep learning”
- smart city applications
- education, transportation, law enforcement and banking verticals
- high-performance buildings
- big data
- drones and robots
- EZVIZ (the company’s consumer focused answer to GoPro)
An overarching theme to the products is the intelligence side, the company emphasized.
“We realized in 2006 that the challenge of analytics was going to come in, what we call AI [artificial intelligence] today, so we started establishing our team. Last year we started to develop analysis in cooperation with Nvidia using their GPU processor, and three days ago we announced we’re going to be working with Movidius’ VPU [visual processing unit],” noted Hu, speaking through translators during the press conference. “So we will have a lot of deep study and learning together.”
“We’d like to grow together with this industry,” he continued. “We have been very lucky to grasp the opportunities by the growth of digitized surveillance and IP, and we believe we have caught up the trend in artificial intelligence, the deep learning within this field. There’s a lot of big data we’ve collected through the past years, so we believe we’re going to contribute a lot to this industry.”
On the analytics front, at Hikvision’s showroom and in its Security China 2016 booth, the company was demonstrating advances in its dual-lens technology and 3D information produced by the imagery. Hu said the technology under development, on the camera end and the recorder end, can categorize people in 24 different ways.
Other visual-enhancement aids highlighted included its True Color Reproduction (for processes such as deciphering blurry license plates), Defog (to clear up other image impediments) and low-light technology.
“The accuracy is going to be much higher to tie into an information database,” said Daisy Dai, a Hikvision technical support engineer who led the showroom tour. “The stereo camera can recognize the height of person; rough estimate of gender, age; whether the person wears glasses or not. It can show the time the person is on camera, so it can compare with other cameras if it’s the same person or not.”
Such deep learning AI capabilities, Dai pointed out, can better allow the cameras and operators to study the context of the video and better recognize objects and other features captured — so, for instance, if law enforcement is searching for a clever criminal suspect who has tried to get away by switching license plates of the car he’s driving, the camera knows key features of the vehicle and will be able to match it during tracking.
At Security China 2016, the drone demonstration in Hikvision’s booth attracted crowds. Tech support engineer Charles Sun explained that the third-gen product’s flight time without charging has increased from 30 minutes to an hour now, and the six-wing design is more compact, allowing for thermal cameras onboard. It ranges up to 3-kilometer high flying with control distance from up to 1-kilometer away.
On top of that, the company also showed its rifle-like Defender Series UAV Intelligence Unit, which is in a category of products that breaks up drone communication signals.
Hu said Hikvision works closely with its integrators and end users to educate them on opportunities for emerging technologies such as drones.
“Usually we start by identifying the target customer, then according to their needs provide the right product,” he said. “For example, in China we try to avoid forest fires and there’s usually a very high tower to oversee this where we set up a very long-range camera to monitor this, to capture the potential fire. If there’s some limitation or something blocking the scene in such an area we might need a very cost-effective drone to fly over and take a look.
“We not only provide the training and material and knowledge to our integrators, but to our end customers because they’re the ones who really care about the request,” he added. “Of course there’s maybe a lot of customization involved and we help them to customize their needs.”
Along with drones and AI, Hu said the company has been focused on upgrading its compression technologies for greater efficiency and usability of data in images, on both the front and back ends. Hikvision was demonstrating video stitching and using multiple sensors to combine for higher quality video presentation. Its second-gen PanoVu p/t/z dome on display features eight lenses (the original had four) to produce up to 24-megapixel resolution panoramic imagery.
Of course, one issue that’s top of mind for any security company these days is the threat of cyber attacks and hacks. When asked about Hikvision’s cybersecurity measures, Hu acknowledged that the topic was a big challenge for not only manufacturers but integrators, installers and end users — though manufacturers typically receive the brunt of finger pointing when breaches occur.
“We’re under very, very high pressure, so in 2014 we established a network security response standard to respond to those issues,” Hu said, adding that in 2013 the company created its own cybersecurity lab and testing process. It has a tight relationship with a third-party cybersecurity expert and works with a hacker group to subject its products to real-world evaluation. “We understand there’s always a concern about cybersecurity, and it’s also not possible to eliminate it 100 percent. So we work with integrators not only on product sale but on system design, so for example is there a health check or constant monitoring system in place.”
Meanwhile, as manufacturers and integrators expand beyond the scope of physical security, they may also be able go beyond providing security (physical or logical) in general as the uses for surveillance cameras expands.
The growth possibilities excite Hu, whose company is already enlisting its own robotic solutions to improve efficiencies in its new factory that opened about an hour’s drive from Hikvision headquarters in Hangzhou. Coincidentally, the World Robot Conference 2016 was also being held in Beijing the same week as Security China 2016.
“When we see technologies develop here we’re very excited about that, full of hope for this industry. We also know that video is not just used in security or surveillance but also used many fields, many areas — for example, robots in future they will have to have an eye. The machine vision, we believe that it will become even bigger than security,” he says. “We’re also developing our industrial cameras or industrial automation. There are a lot of things we can do around video and around images.”
The Future of Industrial Automation
The press members got a tour of the new factory, whose campus consists of four distinct buildings (and two main sections per building). To Hu’s point, Hikvision utilizes 500 robots (and hopes to increase the total to around 800 by year’s end) to move around the various sections, loading and unloading cargo, day and night.
It was noted that these automated ground vehicles (AGVs) have increased warehouse efficiency by 2.5x, can carry about a half-ton of cargo, drive roughly 1 meter per second, and operate for about 10 hours following an hour’s time to charge (and they know when and where to get juiced up).
The robotic vehicles are fed input by workers, and then go on their merry way following the course of QR codes that dot the warehouse floors and shelves. The vehicles have surveillance cameras on the top and bottom to read the codes and know where to go and which shelves to unload their pallets of boxes.
The 300,000-square-meter campus is eight times the size of the company’s original factory and is home to 3,000+ employees. Hikvision explained that phase two of the factory expansion will make it three times larger still when construction within the adjacent lot is completed.
While in Hangzhou, the press tour included an end-user visit to the luxurious, golden spherical-shaped InterContinental Hotel. Used during B20 and site of presentations by foreign dignitaries, the hotel security relied heavily upon its more than 700 cameras of all types — including night vision models on the perimeter — installed throughout.
Cameras could be seen high up the lobby walls, within the ceiling of the grand ballroom (where President Xi Jinping delivered the B20 keynote) and elsewhere.
On the back end of all the cameras, a peek inside the monitoring operations center revealed a 7x3 video wall whose displays were configured with the majority showing multiple cameras per screen. In the middle, Hikvision VMS mapping software was demonstrated, giving a comprehensive view with both 2D and 3D rendering into every floor of the 21-floor hotel, by which camera icons could be clicked on to then pull up that particular live video feed.
The VMS can be used to program automated checkpoint rotations for various cameras being patrolled. Video is stored for 90 days on eight centralized video recorders (CVRs) onsite. Hikvision personnel noted that following the summit the hotel was lauded by local police with a “best in class of security solutions” award.
Arlen Schweiger is the managing editor for Campus Safety and Security Sales & Integration magazines.