Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Where's the Bandwidth?

According to this story, New York City's much touted $450 million (that's $450,000,000 for you taxpayers keeping score at home) is not going to be completed any time soon. Why?

Some anonymous but obviously incredibly intelligent person wanted to install fancy, gee-whiz megapixel intelligent cameras in the subway system. It was to have auto-tracking, left-object detection, analytics, the whole nine. And while this person was writing up this job, he had a brilliant thought.

"Ya know, we could save a lot of money by using the existing fiber optic network already installed in the subway system. Whoopee! I'm a genius, just like Mommy always said!" Then he proceeded to split atoms with his mind while calculating pi to the millionth place. Because that's how he rolls.

The problem? The MTA had installed that fiber optics network in the 1980s.
According to a board document, tests on the cable showed that it had “many broken fibers unsuitable to carry the high bandwidth required” to transmit large amounts of data, which hindered the surveillance camera project. The document did not say how long it would take to replace the cable.

Wow. Just... wow. Who woulda thunk that 20 year old cable made out of glass and running underground in a tunnel carrying the worlds busiest mass transit system with hundreds and hundreds of trains rumbling past at 45 or so miles an hour might have had problems? I would have run a speed test or something, but that's just me.

That's not all. Appearently, there are serious problems with the analytics.

One of the officials who spoke on Wednesday said those problems involved the cameras’ ability to spot an unattended bag or briefcase left on a train platform or other busy area and then alert law enforcement to the possible hazard. That capability had originally been promoted as a major feature of the system, but the official said it had failed in tests. “There are too many people, too many things moving around in the system,” the official said.

Well, dang. At least that's not the biggest scandal in American municipal surveillance systems. That prize surely goes to San Fransisco, with it's 0.01 fps cameras. Seriously, reading this article, you get the sense that a drunk monkey working for ADT set up the system: Bad wireless connections, terrible motion detection protocols, poorly sited cameras, framerates so low you'd get better results with an army of sketch artists using notepads and pencils standing on every corner, they don't have enough storage space to save what little data they do have (a staggering admission; hard drives are so cheap they're practically free), and San Francisco law doesn't allow the police to view the cameras live or to move the PTZs. Also, the cops say they came up $200,000 short and had to dip into their operating budget to cover maintainance.

There's video, too. Watch it and weep. At least they're megapixel cameras with some nice resolution, and clearly they didn't scimp on the lenses. Too bad whoever sited that camera was a moron, because it should be a little lower to see the entire crosswalk.

Seriously, people, I know figuring out the cabling requirements are the least fun part of the job, but if you screw that up, nothing is going to work, okay?

1 comment:

John Honovich said...

Nice post.

Not surprised about the abandoned object tests failing. It is a shame more people do not know about this.

Thanks for sharing the video from SF. While the resolution is high, the video quality suffers from such a low resolution, the images seem to be blurred and quite infrequent (less than 3 fps). I am not sure how usable this is.