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SightLogix: Intelligent Video Surveillance, the smart way
by Douglas Dixon
Entering the Market
It was June 2002, nine months after 9/11, and John
Romanowich was walking Ground Zero with Keith Hanna, a colleague from Sarnoff
Corporation. They had been invited by the Port Authority of New York and New
Jersey (www.panynj.gov) to discuss the
possibility of using automated video surveillance to protect the World Trade
Center site. "The area was completely excavated," says Romanowich,
"and was effectively a crater in the ground. All the security at the site
was from roving patrols."
Yet Romanowich saw that
automated surveillance technology simply was not up to the challenge. The site
was both a crime scene and an active construction site: "The infrastructure
for us to work with was minimal," he says, "even though we were in the
center of one of the most powerful cities in the nation." In particular, it
just would not be feasible to install fixed cameras on the temporary fences,
then run the necessary cabling throughout the site, much less install the
required supporting computer equipment in the temporary trailers in use on the
"To my tremendous
frustration," says Romanowich, "as I walked around this facility with
some of the world's leading experts, both from Sarnoff and from other companies,
we realized that this could not be done. And to this day it has not been
Out of that frustration came the
foundations of Romanowich's new business. Five years later, in November 2006,
Romanowich saw his vision come to fruition when his new Princeton-based company,
SightLogix, Inc. (www.sightlogix.com),
held the first public demonstration of its intelligent video surveillance system
-- specifically designed for protecting this kind of critical outdoor
The demonstration was held at
the Conference Center of the New Jersey Hospital Association facility in
Princeton, New Jersey, with one live camera watching the front lawn of the
campus, and a second positioned across the street to monitor traffic along a
driveway and parking lot.
demonstration, November 2006 in Princeton, New Jersey.
At the demo, Larry Barfield,
vice president of government programs at SightLogix, explained the attributes of
the kinds of critical infrastructure locations that the company is targeting,
from landmarks, to chemical and utility plants, to airports, to the nation's
borders: "They all have several things in common. They have perimeters of
varying shapes and sizes, typically dispersed and remote. They also typically
have a lack of infrastructure located nearby for supporting communications and
power. And they are all at the mercy of the outdoor environment."
The traditional solution for
protecting an outdoor site, as at the World Trade Center, is to employ a large
staff of guards to patrol around the clock. But this is expensive, and still
leaves areas unwatched after the guards pass by on their rounds. And while
maintaining this kind of staffing might be possible for a major central site, it
just is not feasible for guarding remote locations or long borders.
Video-based surveillance would
seem to offer a better solution: set up cameras to watch along each section of
the site, and then feed the signals back into a control room to a wall of
displays. A small staff then can watch the displays to look for unexpected
activity. However, this task is not well matched to us humans -- Nobody can
continually watch a bank of monitors with unflagging alertness for hours and
hours, much less 24/7.
Thus the attraction of
"intelligent" video surveillance -- to have a computer monitor the
camera feeds, and generate alerts when it detects moving objects or other
changes. This might seem to be a great choice for security monitoring, and in
fact, says Barfield, "a number of organizations have actually tried that
over the past few years." But he says, "intelligent video, as compared
to indoor locations, has had less than stellar success in the outdoor
world." (Barfield speaks from the experience of having most recently
directed the security operations for all U.S. Marine Corps bases in Washington,
D.C., including Presidential support facilities.)
In fact, it is very difficult to
program computers to come anywhere near the natural ability of humans to detect
and really understand possible threats in a scene, particularly in a busy and
uncontrolled outdoor environment. Imagine a very busy outdoor scene -- with
grass blowing and foliage waving in the wind, flying leaves or rain or snow,
dramatic lighting changes from clouds passing overhead, and even ocean waves
crashing in the distance. Even with all this activity, the human eye and brain
still can instinctively ignore the background noise and immediately focus in on
the motion of an unwanted intruder.
However, computers only can
detect the changes from one video frame to the next, and don't
"understand" the larger context of grass and trees and waves. The
motion of a large branch, or the sun coming out and throwing a sharp shadow, can
appear as a large moving object in the scene and set off an alarm. Or a near-by
running animal can appear bigger and much more threatening than a human sneaking
slowly closer in the distance.
As a result, today's video
surveillance systems are better suited to indoor environments, with steady
controlled lighting and, even better, areas with no activity -- such as
monitoring emergency exit doors. Otherwise, they can generate large numbers of
false and nuisance alarms.
"Even best in class systems
can have eight false alarms per camera per day," says Romanowich,
"which is totally unacceptable. The promise was better security and
reducing your operating budget, when in fact they provide marginal advances to
the security while shifting the operating budget -- to IT services and
additional staff to chase false alarms."
In addition, installing this
kind of video surveillance system for a large enterprise with tens or hundreds
of cameras can impose huge logistical problems and costs. "Typically on the
projects that I've been associated with," says Barfield, "the
infrastructure can be up to 50 percent or greater of the overall cost of the
project. Intelligent video was not necessarily an attractive economic way of
solving the problem."
First, you need to install the
cameras, which requires installing strong poles to keep the cameras steady in
winds, plus digging trenches to run power and video cables. Then you need to run
all those cables back to the guard room, and to the computers. However, this
kind of computer vision processing is very processor-intensive, requiring more
and more computers as you add additional cameras -- typical systems can handle
only four to sixteen video feeds per server.
(One partial solution is to
transmit the video in compressed digital format at lower resolution, which does
reduce communications bandwidth and processing requirements, but also degrades
the quality of the video and therefore lowers the sensitivity of the analysis --
requiring more cameras and increasing nuisance alarms.)
As a result, what might have
begun as a project to deploy security cameras can turn into a large construction
project, plus a major IT development effort to design and build a computer
center and associated infrastructure (including cooling and backup power, and
24/7 support). Again, while this approach may be possible for a major facility,
it does not scale well to hundreds of cameras, much less thousands, it is not
feasible for remote locations, and it does not support rapid deployment of
systems to protect new or temporary sites.
So as John Romanowich walked
Ground Zero, he saw that the current intelligent video surveillance systems
simply were not up to the task of protecting the site. It just would not be
feasible to set up the necessary infrastructure and wiring and IT systems in an
active construction zone, much less be constantly reconfiguring the cameras as
Instead, Romanowich envisioned a
totally different approach, what became the SightLogix system, explicitly
designed for surveillance of critical infrastructure in an uncontrolled outdoor
His vision was to leverage
today's smaller and more powerful processors by building the intelligence into
the camera itself. While the resulting camera unit is more expensive, the
overall system cost is substantially less -- providing significant savings by
eliminating the cost of building a computer facility to do the video analysis,
as well as the associated ongoing maintenance and support.
And this integrated approach has additional
benefits: Since the processing is done directly in the camera before any video
compression, it has access to the full-quality video image, resulting in more
accurate results over a longer range -- reducing costs since fewer cameras are
required to cover a perimeter. And since the camera is self-contained, it can be
totally mobile, powered by solar panels and transmitting information and
associated videos wirelessly -- making it possible to rapidly deploy to new
locations and easy to re-configure the security at an existing site.
As a result, says Romanowich, "the capital
equipment and maintenance and operation budget is significantly less." The
initial capital expense can be a third that of the competition: "One
recently installed system was under $80,000 for the installed cost, and the
competition was $125,000. So ultimately we covered four times the area, and at
only two thirds the cost."
While SightLogix has been
demonstrating its system at trade shows and to individual customers, the
November event was the first live public demonstration of the system in action.
The event was attended by potential government and military customers including
the Department of Homeland Security, Marine Corps, and Army Night Vision Labs,
as well as representatives from the offices of New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt
and Senator Frank Lautenberg.
For the demonstration, one
SightLogix camera system was positioned close to the building to monitor the
building entrance and lawn. A second camera was placed across the street
watching the driveway of the office complex where the SightLogix office is
But the key point was that these
were not permanent installations -- there was no installation, no
infrastructure, and no cabling. The cameras were mounted on portable trailers,
positioned on retractable posts, transmitting alerts and video wirelessly to the
demo display, and even self-powered with solar panels and batteries. (A third
camera mounted on the roof of the SightLogix building was also transmitting to
the demonstration room over a cellular network.)
SightLogix camera mounted on a
portable trailer, raised on a retractable post, and self-powered with solar
panels and batteries.
The resulting feeds were
projected on two displays at the front of the room. The left screen displayed
the live feeds and alarm alerts from the two cameras using a third-party command
and control system. Since the SightLogix system supports industry-standard
MPEG-4 video format for video and standard alarm management protocols for the
associated surveillance information, it can be plugged right in to security
operations systems that customers already have installed. "It has to fit in
to the existing security infrastructure and IT framework," says Romanowich,
"and interoperate with all systems that might need it."
The left display showed live
feeds from two different cameras in a third-party command and control system.
Each camera is transmitting both the original raw video and processed video
with alarm overlays. The first visible light camera (top) is monitoring the
field in front of the facility. The second camera with an IR thermal imager
(bottom) is positioned across the street to monitor the driveway entrance.
The second screen displayed the
SightLogix Coordination System software for camera configuration, and for
stand-alone coordinated display of information back on a geo-registered site map
-- telling you the two things you need to know: the location of an intruder, and
its properties (size, speed, temperature, etc.).
The right display showed the
SightLogix Coordination System software for camera configuration and display,
showing a geo-registered overhead map of the area, with the camera position
and field of view superimposed as a red triangle. The camera view allows the
user to define alarm regions and associated policy rules for generating
Barfield first showed how to
quickly configure the system when a camera is initially placed on a site,
setting its position and orientation by clicking on an overhead view of the
scene (i.e., a Google Map) so the camera can report the GPS coordinates of an
intruder in real time. This is a much easier calibration process than has been
traditionally required. "You are no longer required to have somebody go out
into the field and have a GPS locator to locate themselves," says Barfield.
"You can do it all from the interface."
Next, Barfield configured the
alarm and display options for the camera. The SightLogix camera actually can be
configured to provide up to two video feeds, with options to control the video
bandwidth and overlay information. For the demo, the first feed was the raw
video from the camera, and the second was processed to stabilize the image
(remove shaking from wind) and to indicate detected objects by outlining them
with a box and drawing a short motion trail behind them.
The camera watching the front
lawn had a wide field of view, with the ability to detect pedestrians out to
about 100 meters and vehicles to about 200 meters. Since no one was interested
in continuous alarms as traffic drove by on the road in the distance, Barfield
clicked on the display to draw an alarm region that excluded the road. The
system supports setting policies for different regions: active, ignore, or to
use more complicated rules, such as alarming only when detecting objects of
specific sizes, speeds, and/or temperature (with a thermal camera). "Boats
exhibit a completely different temperature profile than the water itself,"
says Barfield. "And tumbleweeds are not 98 degrees like humans."
Policies can be more complex,
such as alarming only when an object moves from one region to another. And they
can be changed, for example from day to night or for a new threat level. Even
better, the regions and rules are associated with the location, not the camera
view, so the cameras can be repositioned without having to re-define all the
The demo proceeded by having a
subject walk across the expanse of the lawn, moving from close to far, slow and
fast and stopped, and from bright sun to deep shade (which was difficult to see
with the naked eye). The SightLogix system successfully tracked the subject, as
well as occasional cars that drove along the driveway on the left side, while
ignoring large shadows from overhanging trees. Barfield asked the audience for
suggestions, and they had the subject move off to the side and then walk back
very slowly into the camera view. The system alerted very quickly -- before most
of the audience had noticed the subject's leg coming into the view.
The second camera monitoring the
driveway across the street took advantage of the SightLogix option to provide
cameras with an IR (thermal) imager that detects heat. These work well in the
daytime, but are especially useful for night viewing in locations without
additional lighting. During the entire demonstration event, the camera was
successfully detecting and tracking both cars and pedestrians coming in and out
of the driveway, sometimes up to four cars at a time.
Barfield then had another test
subject walk down the sidewalk to the left of the driveway, though a more
complex background, under branches, behind light poles, and then further and
further into the distance, to about 300 meters from the camera. The system
tracked the subject all the way, and until they were so far away that the human
eye had trouble noticing them at all.
architecture allows a 3X range advantage over comparable intelligent video
systems using similar optics," says Barfield. "The performance
advantage can easily translate into reduced equipment costs." Adds
Romanowich, "The competition does hundreds of feet at best with a
wide-angle lens, and we do hundreds of meters."
Not bad for a wireless camera on
a stick. The camera is rugged, designed to operate in temperature environments
from -30 to +60C, and nitrogen purged to ensure humidity control (with sensors
to monitor these conditions). It can communicate securely (with standards-based
encryption) using wireless (802.11), cellular, and SATCOM -- using low bandwidth
mediums without sacrificing quality, since the analysis is performed in the
camera and not on the output video. And it runs on low power, so it is feasible
to operate with solar power.
"Everything that was
demonstrated live was performed using wireless devices," says Barfield,
"with cellular for communications and solar for power. By developing an
architecture that enables wireless and solar, SightLogix has brought intelligent
video surveillance to the world of mobility."
SightLogix seems the natural
evolution of Romanowich's experience with camera designs since college. "I
was seeing all these technologies evolving," he says, "and trying to
see how they come together."
Romanowich, who grew up in
Paramus, New Jersey, has always been fascinated by electronics and how things
work. His father, a dental technician, had him playing with electronics at
around age five or six. "I loved it, winding electromagnets, building
buzzers, crystal radios, and ham radio."
Romanowich started working with
camera systems when he studied engineering at the New Jersey Institute of
Technology (www.njit.edu), earning a BSEE in
computer architecture in 1987 and a MSEE in optical electronics in 1998. "I
liked engineering," he says. "In high school I was already working
three jobs, at a restaurant, fixing lawnmowers, and for my electronics teacher's
small company. But at NJIT I started to get more serious."
Romanowich earned a full
fellowship from NJIT for his master's thesis, and worked on opto-electronics and
IR cameras at Sarnoff Corporation (www.sarnoff.com)
under Walter Kosonocky, an IEEE Fellow and a key figure in the development of
CCDs, especially for visible and infrared imaging (with 69 patents in solid
state electronics). "This area is a center of excellence for camera
technology and imaging," says Romanowich. "It's rather unique; there
are not many places like this except a couple locations in Silicon Valley."
After graduation in from NJIT
1988, Romanowich joined IBM as an engineer in Fishkill, New York, working on
projects including machine vision inspection systems. "They had the most
interesting work," he says, "collaborating with the Watson Labs."
He was also accepted to Columbia to start working on a Ph.D. "I wanted to
start my own business," he says. "I never saw myself as an
So he also began working on his
own. "I started the business on the side," he said, "and was
making more money so I decided to quit. The Ph.D. was going to take five years
and I could start a business in the same amount of time." In 1990,
Romanowich left IBM and formed his own company, Synthesis Electronics, to
provide engineering consulting and services.
Romanowich began working with
the Electrical Power Research Institute making advanced products for utilities,
including "high-voltage circuit breaker monitoring diagnostics, to reduce
safety risk." Later, he returned to school part-time in the MBA program at
the Rutgers School of Management. "I was doing the Rutgers MBA at night
with one class a semester. I got about one third done, but then I quit [when
starting SightLogix] because I could not take money from investors and not be
fully focused on the business."
Much of Romanowich's business
was with Sarnoff and its clients. He worked on chip designs for "exotic
cameras," including infrared vision cameras for the White Sands Missile
Range that were used on the Space Shuttle. He also helped develop a powerful
video supercomputer for the Sarnoff Real-Time Corporation spin-off (SRTC, which
became DIVA), and helped found Sarnoff's Pyramid Vision Technologies internal
venture in 1997 to productize computer vision technology (www.pyramidvision.com).
He also consulted for companies including Intel Corporation, Samsung, and
In 1999, Romanowich founded a
new company, Home Animation, Inc. to provide wiring and media design and
installation services to new home buyers -- hooking up phone, networks, and
audio / video, especially for home theaters. But this was totally opposite from
an engineering business -- labor-intensive, and requiring a lot of hand-holding
of new homeowners -- so Romanowich eventually got out of the business.
Then in late 2001 Romanowich was
asked back to serve as executive director of Sarnoff's Pyramid Vision
Technologies venture, which was developing smart video surveillance systems for
customers including the military. In his two years on the job, Romanowich
resolved yield problems by organizing the supply chain and helped triple sales
to $5 million by using client input to improve products. The PVT video security
products were eventually sold off by Sarnoff to L-3 Communications in December
Through this period, Romanowich
was looking for other business opportunities, and meeting other local
technologists who could contribute to making them happen. He became involved in
the Princeton entrepreneur community through organizations like the New Jersey
Technology Council (www.njtc.org), where he
served as chairman of the NJTC Marketing and Sales Network. And he was named by
NJBIZ to its "Forty under 40" list in March 2003.
Romanowich also joined with
Steven Georges, another local entrepreneur with Princeton Server Group (www.princetonservergroup.com),
to pick up on the challenge of Rush Holt's "Einstein's Alley"
by founding a local group to network with other entrepreneurs. This would also
directly benefit his new company. "We got out a lot of resources out of
it," he says, "including several employees."
Romanowich began focusing on the
SightLogix concept with an informal circle of advisors in October 2003,
developing the business plan and formalizing the company with partners including
James Hahn and Eric Schwab.
"My previous ventures were
basement operations," he says, "and I realized I needed some real
talent, so I reached out my friend Jim Hahn to help." Both Romanowich and
Hahn were investors in the New Jersey Technology Council Venture Fund (www.njtcvc.com).
Hahn brought experience from founding four start-up companies and was the first
investor. He had taken a previous company, Infotron Systems, "from an
actual basement to an IPO, with five international divisions and 1400
employees." Hahn now serves as chairman of SightLogix and focuses full-time
on the company.
Schwab had known Romanowich
since NJIT in 1984, and brought experience in product development,
manufacturing, and outdoor packaging from positions at AT&T Bell Labs /
The final founder was Danny
Chin, who holds 28 patents in video processing. Romanowich had worked for Chin
at Sarnoff's SRTC (then DIVA) venture, where Chin was a cofounder and eventually
director of advanced development. Romanowich says he invited Chin over to hear
the company story, and "he joined the same night," becoming vice
president of engineering.
The company was formally founded
as Automated Threat Detection (the predecessor company to SightLogix) in March
2004, with Romanowich as president and CEO. They already had been raising money
from "visionary private individuals," and the company received
$250,000 in matching "Springboard" funding from the New Jersey
Economic Development Authority (www.njeda.com),
for an initial seed funding round of $900,000.
"The requirements of the
Springboard funding accelerated our fundraising," says Romanowich. "We
had a complete business plan already submitted to the EDA."
As it became more established,
SightLogix received an additional $750,000 in "Techniuum" funding from
the EDA in July 2006 (www.njedatechniuum.com).
And it has taken advantage of the EDA tax transfer credit program, selling state
tax losses to receive $240,000 from 2005 and 2006. "The EDA did a good
job," says Romanowich. "They have helped us grow our staff over 50
percent in the past six months."
"New Jersey is smart,"
says Romanowich, "They are putting their money where their mouth is, and
they're stepping up to make a difference on the world stage. This technology was
developed in the state, and I was educated in the state, and there's all the
video-centric talent here that would be going away otherwise. Because of the
resident skill base we know exactly where the best talent is, and how to attract
Meanwhile, the technical
challenge for SightLogix was to develop a complete camera system that would meet
the needs of the market -- not just security software, but the entire
architecture, including the integrated camera and processing hardware. This
required parallel paths of marketing and development while refining the concept.
"We did a hundred interviews," says Romanowich, "with end-users
and market channels. It was too early for them to understand what we were trying
to do, so we asked open-ended questions. We wanted to establish the underlining
architecture, performance, and price points."
The result of this technical and
marketing work was a clear picture of the intended product, including a 100-page
market requirements document and an engineering design document.
In February 2006, SightLogix
expanded from incubator space on the Princeton Forrestal campus to its current
location on Alexander Road. "We're growing fast," says Romanowich.
"There is real talent chasing us in this area."
"John has been able to
attract top talent from both commercial and government, technology and
market," says Hahn. "We have leading technologists and major
government influencers on the team. It's a strong team, with the company culture
built around John."
One such addition was Larry
Barfield, who joined as vice president of government programs. Barfield has a
military and government background, doing high-tech security since 1990, and
most recently running a test lab for the Marine Corps. "My role was to vet
out cutting edge technology," he says. "We had to see what was out in
the market and bring them in and kick them around. We would actually install
them, and bring them into the field for additional deployment. Some did not make
it out of the lab. The ones that did were installed and had their own sets of
Barfield was introduced to
Romanowich and SightLogix in February 2006 by BAE Systems, a major government
contractor and systems integrator that SightLogix had already been working for
the past year. "It was such a compelling shift," says Barfield.
"At that point I was ripe for generation three. It was very, very clear to
me that what John and his team have put together here was light years ahead of
what was available. So I wanted to actually go along for the ride."
SightLogix needs to develop
these connections because the system is not sold directly. Instead it is
distributed though system integrators, who win the contracts for installation of
security systems for major government and commercial sites. "They include
our product and expertise into a larger security system," says Romanowich,
"which is validating our technology as something that has not been achieved
SightLogix has been selling its
system for evaluation since June 2006, and it already has been included in bids
for major projects. Romanowich sees multiple opportunities that have the
potential to install "a couple hundred" cameras over the next year,
across multiple sites with four to five cameras each.
"Our product provides
military level performance at commercial price points," says Romanowich.
"It has a global ubiquitous market for commercial and government
applications for outdoor sites."
SightLogix began previewing and
test marketing its system at security industry trade shows in 2005. At the ASIS
International conference (originally the American Society for Industrial
Security, www.asisonline.org) in San
Diego in September 2005, says Romanowich, "We showed the architecture, and
people understood. They were surprised as well, saying 'you solve the problems
where current systems do not work.'"
Then by April 2006 at the ISC
West conference in Las Vegas (International Security Conference, www.iscwest.com),
SightLogix was able to demonstrate a fully functional product prototype.
"We talked to integrators -- people who could design the camera into
systems -- for early beta testing," says Romanowich. "We now could
But it was back at ASIS
International in September 2006 that SightLogix received a major coup, being
chosen to exhibit in the Lockheed Martin booth.
"They selected only five
vendors to be there," says Barfield. "It's a sought-after position --
people look to Lockheed, and we were right smack in the middle of the booth.
Lockheed brings in cutting edge technology that could solve their end-user
problems, in areas including wireless, access control, analytics, and alarm
management and display."
Larry Barfield (left) and John
Romanowich (right) with the SightLogix system in the Lockheed Martin booth at
the ASIS International conference in September 2006.
"Lockheed is the largest contractor worldwide, and they see us
as a leading technology of the future," says Romanowich. "It brings
credit to them as bringing the right innovations to their customer base."
"Physical and cyber
security have converged," says Romanowich, "with global interest. It's
a $10 billion plus market. Companies like IBM and Cisco have jumped on the
bandwagon, and we are well positioned to be working with these guys. This is the
next major wave, and the magnitude dwarfs what has come before it. "
And SightLogix is positioned to
catch that wave. "We are just entering the market," says Hahn.
"We have sold product. It is installed and operating, and with happy
customers -- sites where other competitors were kicked out [for not performing].
And these are turning into major rollouts."
"As we move more into the
market the product is being very well accepted because of its architecture and
its capabilities," says Romanowich. "Everybody who sees it sort of
falls in love with it. This is especially true of the people who really
understand it -- we presented it to somebody today, and before we finished they
said they wanted to invest. The product makes so much sense in the way that it
does things, and the economic proposition is so strong."
Originally published in the U.S.
1 Newspaper, January 24, 2007.
Ground Zero - 9/11 References
Joel Meyerowitz's Images from