Watch Your Back — Here Comes Ubiquitous Surveillance

Don’t look now, but video surveillance is hot. It was inevitable. The willing surrender of privacy and the fear of bad actors make a potent combination.

This week, police in Dubai enlisted a new recruit. By the end of the year, a diminutive self-driving car will begin patrolling city streets.

The robotic rig will feature cutting-edge video gear, networked facial-recognition software and an aerial drone, in case undesirables go off-road.

Boosted by emerging technologies, video surveillance has become a service. And it is about to explode.

According to Markets and Markets, a global research consulting group, the market for Video Surveillance-as-a-Service (VSaaS) will grow from $30.37 billion in 2016 to $75.64 billion in 2022, a compound annual growth rate of 15.6%.

VSaaS providers are poised to clean up, too.

Demand is surging thanks to the perception of rising crime rates, increased terror attacks and acceptance of video surveillance. Meanwhile, the cost of camera sensors, network storage and computing power is plummeting.

Then there is automation. Video surveillance used to be labor intensive. Humans monitored video screens 24/7. They are being largely replaced by software algorithms capable of recognizing faces and detecting movement, even in the dark.

Video surveillance used to be labor intensive. Humans monitored video screens 24/7.

In 2005, the Chinese began an ambitious program called Skynet. The goal was to blanket every urban center with all-seeing cameras. By 2015, China Daily reported the program completed 100% coverage of Beijing, the largest city.

Now, the number of surveillance cameras throughout the country is 170 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. Facial-recognition software is so widely accepted, it is used to log into mobile apps, gain access to office buildings and withdraw cash from bank machines.

The government is collecting all of this information and adding it to a massive database.

It’s being mined with data analytics. Powerful new artificial intelligence software tools are compensating for low light, bad angles and even aging.

And what public cameras don’t capture, state-owned bots crawling pervasive social media do.

In Dubai, initial ambitions are much lower. In 2015, Wired reported the emirate contracted with New Zealand’s Martin Aircraft Company to equip firefighters with jetpacks. This policing robot gambit seems to fit with that narrative. It’s cool tech for a city/state that wants to be cutting-edge.

The machines are being built by OTSAW Digital, a Singapore company. In a press release, its chairman, Ling Ting Ming, explained the goal is more about using robots to augment policing, rather than to track humans.

“Robots exist to improve the quality of human lives,” Ling says.

Happy talk aside, I’m optimistic because new technologies normally lead to important new industries and to new business models, like VSaaS.

Despite the enormous potential market, the rise of VSaaS is something barely on investors’ radar. While video surveillance in North America will not reach Chinese penetration any time soon, casual observation at airports or crowded public places like stadiums shows that the number of cameras is growing.

In the current environment of terror and travel bans, this trend will grow exponentially.

However, navigating is important. Video surveillance hardware is a fragmented marketplace. The market for VSaaS software is even more complicated. Investors need to choose carefully. One camera chip maker in the mix is Ambarella (AMBA), based in Silicon Valley.

Best wishes,

Jon Markman

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Comments 8

  1. Jacob July 5, 2017

    China has named its surveillance system Skynet? The same name of the surveillance system that gains self awareness in the terminator franchise of movies? In the movies, Skynet initiates the War between robots and man in fear that all of humanity will try to stop it from its prime directive which is, ironically, to help safeguard mankind. Is this a case of life imitating art or what? I would humbly add that every dystopian science fiction book I have ever read carries the theme of people initially willingly trading off their freedoms for perceived safety. And then it all goes wrong….


    • Chuck Burton July 6, 2017

      Total freedom and no safety. Total safety and no freedom. Somewhere in between is the ideal, but it is going to vary according to individual choice. That provides the opening for all totalitarian government.


      • Chuck Burton July 6, 2017

        And all government is totalitarian at heart.


  2. gary gomolka July 6, 2017

    thank you Jon for throwing a little nugget out there. as there are many so called tech experts, you are truly the only one i take seriously. when i can, i will be subscribing to one of your services.


  3. Ted F July 6, 2017

    If you watch some of the BBC detective series set today on PBS have you ever noticed that there are CCTv cameras in the most remote places? And they are used to catch the bad guys.


  4. Chuck Burton July 6, 2017

    Our own government just tried to increase its data base on American citizens, by trying to require state voting boards to give complete data on registered voters, with their past voting records, which could show political biases, and possible anti government inclinations. So far, 44 states are resisting, often quoting voter confidentiality laws. Hooray for them! Boo to any which comply!


  5. Stephen A. Ballas July 6, 2017

    Yes we are about to enter the time of the total police state as we have seen described in so many books and movies. But you can stay right here in the United States to see it coming. Just this year Carlsbad California agreed to a proram funded by the regional planning organization SANDAG to start installing cameras at each street entering this city.
    These cameras will record and the police will retain for at least a year the license plate and photo of the face of each car and person entering and leaving the minicipality. Of course this is to only be used for the safety of the citizens? Oh by the way SANDAG is a totally independant none voter approved organization that doles our federal dollars with no elected officials that run it. they are suppose to be controled by individuals who are appointed by the cities that get the funding from them. Since you all in your organization are all about trying to anticipate “Black Swan Events” here one about to happen. Governmental organizations, the companies that build the products, the designers of these products the exectutives that run the companies and the political leaders and bureaucrats who promote these products and their families will become targets for freedom loving Americans, who will not accept these practices. The first time this occurs the self preservation response by the government will be a response to crack down even harder with the unintended consequences of driving more moderate Americans into the anti government camp resulting in further attacks and so on. The end result will be one of two outcomes; a total police state, or a civil war. It took a lot less 241 years ago to start the first war to oust monarchy control. Thus how the American experience comes to an end.


  6. Edmund July 17, 2017

    According to the writings of the founding fathers of the American Constitutional Democratic Republic (not democracy) any right not SPECIFICALLY given to the government by the constitution is RESERVED to the people.
    Hence the right to privacy. Soon, it will have to be written into the constitution to stop the push by those trying to reduce the country to a big surveillance prison.