Telstra invests in new surveillance service

Summary:A fire detection and tracking system being trialled during Victoria's Black Saturday fires in 2009, which could have helped save more lives, has finally reached commercial footing.

A fire detection and tracking system being trialled during Victoria's Black Saturday fires in 2009, which could have helped save more lives, has finally reached commercial footing.

An EYEfi camera
(EYEfi SPARC image © 2010 EYEfi. Used with permission of EYEfi. All rights reserved.)

The EYEfi system, which uses cameras to track a fire's exact location and progress, has been in development for the last six years. However, its development was accelerated after the Victorian bushfires, which were so severe that fire tower crews were evacuated, satellites were unable to see because of the smoke and aircraft were hampered by extreme weather conditions.

Meanwhile, EYEfi cameras deployed for an internal trial were able to track the fires as they moved in real time, according to system founder Simon Langdon. Normally authorities and emergency services would take information from different sources and determine an area in which the fire was expected to be, he said. However, EYEfi, using autonomously gathered information or a person manually directing a camera for a visual assessment, could track the fire's location, rate of progression and directional speed in real time.

"That system, if it had been deployed, could have given the residents considerably more notice," Langdon said, adding that many more lives could have been saved. He estimated that EYEfi could have provided one to 1.5 hours notice if its information on the actual real-time location of the fires was passed onto the emergency voice and SMS alert system.

The information from the cameras was used as evidence to the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission and the Victoria Police Phoenix Task Force investigations relating to the Coronial Inquest, according to Langdon.

The EYEfi system is now gunning for the big time, having signed a partnership with Langdon's former employer Telstra last month, which will see the telco license its system nationally to sell as a service out to government departments and private enterprise, bundled with additional services from Telstra such as help desk, network, service and support.

Customers can buy the EYEfi cameras and ask Telstra to install them in location where they want, said Langdon. Data from the cameras and other sensors such as weather stations, lightning detectors and so on will be sent back to Telstra's datacentre using the telco's Next G and will be accessible for customers over a cloud-based app supplied over a national EYEfi IP network, which Telstra is currently expanding now so that customers can easily access the service locally.

"Rather than customers hosting CCTV infrastructure, services, software, with this system, they just subscribe into the system," Langdon said.

The customers can then use a map-based spatial video application with a standard web browser. The cameras can be controlled by the customer using the company's SPARC plug-in to zoom or pan. The camera can locate a position up to 80km away on the ground within seconds, telling the user where the camera is looking and linking the visual information with data from weather stations nearby.

The customers can enter an address and the system will then find the nearest camera that the organisation owns (or any other camera in the network that a customer has shared access to), which can look at that address. This could, for example, be used to check a location where smoke has been spotted.

There are three basic flavours of camera installation that EYEfi supplies:

  • Stationary — on fire towers, comms towers or a pole system supplied by EYEfi
  • Mobile camera solutions for vehicles, trains or plant and equipment
  • Portable trailers.

EYEfi is also working on airborne cameras to go on rescue helicopters, or firefighting craft or fire-spotting helicopters.

EYEfi receives licensing fees as well as supply of products and services to Telstra. The company hopes to launch the service in April 2012. The service won't just be aimed at emergency services customers, with Telstra set to target it at other applications such as transport and logistics for vehicle tracking and job dispatch, as well as mining operations for remote project management using the company's portable trailer.

EYEfi has put proposals in front of the Victorian and Western Australian governments and is in early discussions with Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

An earlier proposal put to the Victorian Government costed cameras covering key high fire-risk communities identified by the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission (VBRC) at a cost of around $25 million over four years. Langdon didn't consider this to be excessive given the previous government's commitment of hundreds of millions of dollars in response to the royal commission's final report.

"Very little of that money was spent on innovation," he said, with technology money going towards stitching together legacy systems and some IT transformation projects.

"If funding in response to the VBRC's final report is not spent on genuinely new capability, then we are putting ourselves at severe risk of not being able to respond to these situations in the future," he said.

The Federal Attorney-General trialled the system alongside two others in 2010. It found that all the systems were able to observe and locate fires, but that they were slower and less reliable than a human observer, so that they shouldn't be used as the sole primary detection method.

Langdon said EYEfi was different to the other systems, as it provided an entire suite of tools and not just smoke detection, and was also embedded in agency networks and spatial data systems such as PSMA, making it a multi-agency, shared platform that brings everyone onto the same page. Agencies could share cameras if they wanted, said Langdon, negating the need for each to place cameras in the same place.

"We don't see why we should have multiple cameras deployed all collecting the same information, for different agencies," he said.

VicRoads is already using the system on its Incident Management Vehicles following earlier trials. It's deployed camera units on vehicles that travel out to traffic incidents, which turn on automatically when the vehicle puts on its arrow board and lights while attending an incident.

The system automatically logs the incident and allows control centre operators to distribute that information to users via the web interface, EYEfi Navigator or via SMS.

Formula 1 will use EYEfi trailers to carry out surveillance at the Grand Prix in Melbourne. The system is accessed by VicRoads, Victoria Police and the Department of Transport to manage traffic and pedestrian flow within and around the event. This will be the fifth time that EYEfi is used for the Formula 1.

The Victorian Department of Justice uses the trailers to monitor driver behaviour at railway crossings.

Topics: Government, Government : AU, Telcos, Telstra

About

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for t... Full Bio

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