Camera Trap Surveillance
A "camera trap" is a video camera setup, sometimes unattended, which automatically records things happening within a field of view. You may have seen wildlife camera traps, such as to try to detect any individuals of an endangered species in a particular habitat.
In most cases, a camera trap setup is not a reasonable thing to do, but in many cases it is a good match.
There are two types of camera trap we use:
- Motion detection triggered: When something moves within a particular field of view, the system records this activity, but does not record activity when there is not a threshold of motion. Motion might also trigger a notification (such as a beep).
- Continuous recording: The system records everything all the time.
One of the advantages of a motion detection triggered recording is that we don't need to review many hours of surveillance video, and instead only the segments in which there is motion.
For example, if we have a camera facing a door, then the camera records video only when somebody goes in and out of that door, which greatly reduces reviewing time. There may be multiple people going in and out of that door, so we may still need to review a lot of footage in order to try to identify whether any of them are the person of interest.
In some camera trap setups, the camera is connected to a laptop whereby we can "paint" the area of interest in which to detect motion. For example, the camera might have a large view of the surroundings which has a lot of motion such as street traffic, trees blowing in the wind, and various other motion, but we paint only the door, the driveway going in and out, and any access areas such as a sidewalk, so we can record the periods only when the subject is arriving and departing.
Camera traps are not always unattended. They are often attended, and may have an alarm! For example, in some places, it can be suspicious to have surveillance staff in a particular area hanging out watching a place all day and night, or standing in a window or on a terrace for long periods of time. Therefore, in many cases it is better to deploy a camera and have somebody watching a laptop screen inside a hotel room (sometimes attached to a big screen TV if already available inside the room). The agent(s) inside the room can then notify outside surveillance that the subject has exited and in which direction they are headed, for picking up downstream or for catching up to. An agent can be watching the image(s) all the time, and optionally, a notification sound can be played when a painted area is triggered (such as a beep). Notification sounds are generally used only when motion is uncommon.
However, motion detection is often not reasonable to use. The area of interest might have a lot of traffic from many different people/vehicles, so it's of little to no benefit. Quick deployments and changing environments usually make motion detection setup infeasible. Often, we must use small cameras such as dashcams on cars and motorcycles, or wearable bodycams, which don't have good, if any, motion detection.
Continuous recording is the norm for many cameras. For example, we may just park a car or motorcycle within view, whereby the camera(s) is pointed in a good direction, and leave the vehicle unattended. Or, we might deploy a small package otherwise, instead of using a wheeled vehicle. If a subject walks back to the place they are staying with a romantic liaison holding hands, then we can get the entire sequence within the field of view, without needing somebody there to quickly turn on their video camera and point it in the right direction discreetly. This can be used to try to minimize opportunity loss.
Sometimes we don't know whether or not the subject is even present, or what their schedule is. If we must use a camera with continuous recording, then we can review the footage later, such as played back at 10 times the speed so that a 12 hour period (720 minutes) can be reviewed within little over an hour as regards detection.
Many cameras on the market slickly advertise "motion detection" and "artificial intelligence" and promote it, which actually doesn't work well. We have tested countless cameras with big disappointment. What works best for us is special software we have on a laptop which is connected to compatible cameras, so that our third party software does the motion detection (and painting of the part of the field of view to monitor), and records to a hard disk. If this setup is not feasible in a particular situation, then we would rather just do continuous recording and post-processing.
Notably, we have seen a lot of promotional presentations overconfidently overselling the capabilities of their hardware for motion detection and artificial intelligence. The marketing departments and sales people may just want to cheerfully and positively sell, of course, while the actual programming is poor.
Also, many people don't consider the details, such as motion detection in an entire field of view versus just a painted section of the view which is of relevance. It is typically not a simple matter of setting a threshold for an entire field of view.
Unattended camera traps may be used in cases where we don't know whether or not the subject is present, or want to see the pattern of their entries and exits for later surveillance, or wish to have remote viewing of a location.
Attended camera traps are most often used as a tool in surveillance for following people and trying to get more video evidence.
Camera traps are just one of the tools in our overall surveillance capabilities, and are usually used together with other activities.
Our Managing Director was a professional I.T. technical specialist going back to 1987 in the Washington, D.C., region, and keeps up in technical field, not just managerial activities. We don't outsource these activities to others for reasons of reliability, because we are well aware of the real capabilities of various products and systems, and the quality control aspects.
See also our section on Security Cameras.
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