By Kirsten Garvin
While the video surveillance industry has thrived even in a down economy, applications such as monitoring of oil and gas drilling operations, securing parking lots or surveying the periphery of large campuses, have been underserved due to the fact that traditional surveillance technology simply failing to offer a reasonable solution in terms of cost, performance and installation efforts.
To answer this challenge, manufacturers have built solar-powered surveillance systems utilizing traditional IP network camera technology integrated with large solar panels ranging between 130 W and 240 W.
Conversely, MicroPower Technologies has taken an alternative route to address the challenge. In particular, rather than using off-the-shelf approaches, specialists within the organization have re-engineered the concept of solar surveillance cameras, focusing on lowering power consumption first and then integrating the video surveillance with solar panels. As a result, a smaller completely wireless video surveillance camera consuming 1/10 of standard video cameras has allowed the use of smaller solar panels generating just 10 W. This results in significant advantages in terms of reliability, effectiveness, simplicity, and ultimately cost.
In recent years, the video surveillance industry has been characterized by a trend of adoption of wireless communication technology. Simply, in order to cut costs, manufacturers have integrated existing IP network cameras with Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing for data to be transmitted without the need for expensive and potentially problematic Ethernet cables. Despite the leap forward represented by this innovation, the major limitation of video surveillance cameras continued to be the need for each unit to be reached by a cable, as electricity could not be transmitted wirelessly to the devices. Thus, despite some cost savings, the significant advantages that could be represented by a completely wireless surveillance solution were voided.
In addition, Wi-Fi connectivity was often a synonym for interference issues caused by other data flowing in the airwaves. As a result, not only was it common practice for small- and medium sized businesses to leave their properties unsecured, but even larger corporations that most needed surveillance were forced to choose which areas to cover, and often did so with outdated, more expensive technology.
Trenching, for example, is today still widely used as a way to deploy video surveillance networks to secure buildings and perimeters, but the issues associated with this method have contributed to its decline in recent years. When trenching, it is required to dig deep into the ground, often in locations where asphalt has previously been laid down, and then replace the ground covering to its original state. Many times this is only possible after all bureaucratic permits have been obtained; in addition, trenched networks require periodic inspections, routine maintenance visits and unlimited doses of patience for those directly supervising the process. Additionally, excavation costs associated with trenching total on average between US$225 and US$450 per meter and total costs can range between US$22,000 and US$45,000 for every 100 meters covered, resulting in what to most businesses are unaffordable efforts to guarantee security to their premises.
The concept of a solar powered video surveillance camera is not new, but until recently─no one had ever been able to develop a cost-effective, easy-to-install network system. The major challenge with solar powered video surveillance─or, in general, the application of solar technology to most electrical devices─has been represented by the impossibility to generate sufficient levels of current from a reasonably sized panel. In the video surveillance industry, this has translated into complex, clumsy and costly CCTV systems.
As an example, some manufacturers have designed so-called trailer cameras. As the term suggests, their solution features a large, mobile four-wheeled trailer on which they have positioned a tall pole. On top of it they have attached the standard video surveillance camera, while at the bottom, they have put several sets of solar panels along with the required hardware and heavy-duty batteries. Besides a variety of technical and logistical difficulties, a single trailer is priced within the range of US$20,000 to US$30,000 which may not include the cost of the camera or monitoring device.
Previously, the answer to the challenge of creating a solar powered video surveillance camera ignored all the fundamental reasons why an end-user would choose to invest in one, including cost savings, elimination of maintenance visits, and the ability to reliably secure a remote area. In fact, a complex system featuring multiple components has a higher probability to suffer from failures and require maintenance and repairs, inflating what is already cost prohibitive.
Another existing alternative is represented by pole-mounted solar cameras, which are similar in concept and, despite offering a somewhat more reasonable solution, are still far from being the ideal solar powered wireless video camera.
By planting a tall pole into the ground and attaching large solar panels at the very top and positioning a video surveillance camera right beneath it, this solution offers a less complex alternative─though sacrificing the benefits of mobility. In addition, the installation requires a large box containing batteries and requires just as much hardware as trailer cameras. Again, these are complex systems requiring significant efforts and time for installation. A single pole-mounted camera can cost between US$8,000 and US$10,000, without including the costs of repair and maintenance derived by the complexity of the system.
Not surprisingly, despite the power of the idea of applying solar panel technology to security cameras, this type of video surveillance product has not been widely implemented. However, by applying a variety of innovations in the design and implementation phases of its solar cameras, MicroPower Technologies is quickly changing this perception.
The ability to dramatically reduce power consumption was initially derived from the application of an in-house developed wireless data transmission protocol─named TrustLinx™─an alternative transmission protocol to Wi-Fi. TrustLinx is superior to other protocols as, rather than making each camera unit constantly transmit data to its reference router, it allows the device to wirelessly send the information at the most convenient time, which is when interference is at a minimum. Therefore, the video camera requires much lower efforts to complete the same task and as a consequence, can stay ‘at rest’ more often, thus reducing the amount of electricity required.
Incremental to the power savings, the installation of two lateral oblique wings on the side of the main structure of the device allows more air to flow beneath the video camera, eliminating the need for a fan or blower to keep internal temperature above the -20°C required level. At the same time, the lateral wings support two solar panels that, generate over 10 W of power, and contribute to the autonomy capabilities of the surveillance camera by allowing it to capture sunlight for longer periods of time throughout the day and year, no matter in which position the sun is with respect to the device. In the meantime, the threat represented by water, snow, and other debris that could otherwise cover the full surface of the solar panels is eliminated, as a result of the oblique angles of the solar panels.
Ultimately, MicroPower Technologies was able to create a 0.5 W camera relying on three small solar panels to generate a steady 10 W power supply and guarantee operation for up to six days without additional sunlight exposure.
As we have seen, what has allowed MicroPower to succeed where other incumbents and industry veterans have failed was not a particularly advanced discovery in the solar panel technology, nor innovations in materials or components research. Rather, for the MicroPower engineers, the invention of patented low power consumption technology enables their security customers to capitalize on all of the advantages that solar energy has to offer.
Kirsten Garvin is an experienced marketing communications professional and currently holds the position of Senior Marketing Manager for MicroPower Technologies, Inc.(www.micropowerapp.com) Based in San Diego, California, U.S.A., MicroPower is an award-winning provider of solar/wireless video surveillance solutions optimized for rapid, cost-effective security deployment.
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