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Security systems of the future

A security system that senses one's evil intentions and sounds an alarm? Possible? Not so far, of course, but who knows what the future has in store for

Security systems of the future

Dec 1, 1997 12:00 PM,
Howard E. Friedman

A security system that senses one’s evil intentions and sounds an alarm?Possible? Not so far, of course, but who knows what the future has in storefor us. According to industry experts, we’re in for some big surprises thathave the potential make our lives easier, safer, more productive and moreenjoyable.

Earlier this year, in the S&VC Security Technology Review series on burglarand fire alarms, we introduced some fundamental concepts applying to bothhardwired and wireless security systems. In this article we’ll take both awhimsical (and yet realistic) look into what benefits the 21st century mayhold for residential and commercial protective systems. If you’ve missedany part of the Security Technology Review series, then you might find thebackground it provided to be useful in your reading of this article. If so,you may wish to refer to the February, April, August and October issues ofS&VC.

Past and presentFor anyone involved with alarm systems for more than a few years, it is nottoo difficult to remember when a control panel was just a simple metal boxwith a couple of relays, a built-in keyswitch and a cheap ammeter used tocheck the integrity of the protective circuits. This simple apparatus waspowered solely by dry cells, which, in time, would assume the supportingrole of standby battery when commercial AC was eventually used for power.Soon after, it became possible to locate the built-in keyswitch remotely ona wall plate and replace the ammeter by an adjoining “go/no go” indicatorlamp. With the increasing demand for multiple zones of protection,entry/exit delays, bell time-outs and remote alarm reporting, separate modules addressing these concerns not only found their way into many manufacturers’catalogs, but they also added significantly to the cost and complexity ofmany installations.

By the late 1970s, solid state components governed the operation of manyalarm panels that now provided power supplies using rechargeable batteries.Integrated circuits enabled manufacturers to use less space and include thefeatures heretofore found only in add-on modules. This resulted insignificant cost reductions that were passed on to the user — includingon-board digital communicators capable of quickly and accurately reportingalarms to a monitoring station.

By the early 1980s, affordable microprocessors provided the greatestbreakthrough in control panel design, managing parameters like delays, zonecharacteristics, user access codes and alarm reporting formats — all ofwhich fell under software control and could be more varied and easilyselected.

As the PC (personal computer) became more popular, these parameters couldbe programmed into alarm systems from the comfort and convenience of thedealer’s office and, via a modem, the resulting configuration could bedownloaded to the remote installation and uploaded later for inspection,modification and troubleshooting, if required.

Wireless technology using supervision was soon improved enough to beincorporated into control panels, and hybrid designs — using bothhardwired and wireless detection — became popular, making installationsfaster, easier and more profitable for the dealer.

Soon, alphanumeric keypads were developed, displaying both queries andphrases, and they permitted, more than ever before, a higher degree ofcommunication between the system and its users. Around this time,affordable multiplexing technology allowed dozens of zones to share asimple wire run while each maintained its unique characteristics andidentification. High-end panels eventually incorporated voice synthesizersthat allowed the system to “speak” to its users, leading to telephoneinterfacing and making the operation of security systems not only easier,but also more inviting. With it came the ability to use any touch-tonephone (whether on or off premises, including cellular) as a keypad toobtain information about the installation (for example whether or not it isarmed and whether or not the alarm had been triggered and if so, where)and, if required, to issue commands for bypassing faulted zones and arminga disarmed system.

Using its built-in clock, new technology made it possible for securitysystems to support programmed schedules, allowing commercial systems to armand disarm themselves automatically at predetermined times. Byincorporating Line Carrier (e.g. X-10) technology, household appliances,such as coffee makers, lamps, fans, and office apparatus, such as copiers,computers and lighting, could be similarly controlled as well. From acellular phone, a residential user could turn on an air conditioner andhave coffee ready prior to getting home from work — all under the auspicesof the security system.

The present and the futureSo much for the present. What and where is the next advance? Actually, it’salready here, but may not be so obvious. It’s known as system integration.To understand it, a change in thinking is required. No longer is thecontrol panel merely a part of a burglar or fire alarm system — it has thepotential to be at the core of an integrated system into which wirelessdetection, access control, lighting/appliance control and CCTV may also bea part. In fact, recent technology has made it possible for the alarm panelto become the processing and control center for all of these multiplesecurity functions. As such, it makes good sense both technically andeconomically for manufacturers of security systems to provide a standardinterface having compatibility with common alarm equipment and all of acustomer’s other security-related functions. Because the keypad is used ona daily basis, it can remain the focal point of such an integrated systemand can be employed in related tasks. To illustrate, an access controlsystem using typical card readers can be tied into the alarm system.Designated doors, always armed, could be momentarily disarmed when thoseauthorized to do so, enter (or leave) an area using their card. Similarly,the alarm panel can be called upon to trigger cameras and recorders inresponse to unauthorized entries into specific areas. A simple bus, easilywired to different parts of a building, provides a convenient connectionpoint for whatever contacts, modules, keypads, accessories, or otherequipment may be desirable for interfacing with the security system.

The future holds many surprises for us. Selected technologies andphilosophies, now in their infancy, will surely be a part of the securitysystems manufactured in the next century. Here are but a few.

Biometric technologyWhile seemingly out of a science fiction movie, biometric systems storedata on a selected human characteristic unique to each individualauthorized to use the system. When an individual needs access to an area,the same characteristics are scanned and compared with those already in thedatabase; a match grants them entry. Presently, biometric systems storedata on either hand geometry or attributes of the iris and retina. Systemslike these, while largely unfamiliar to the general public, are already inuse in limited applications and may be the common means of access control,ATM and credit card verification in the world of tomorrow. Because of thepotentially foolproof nature of these systems, it was the U.S. governmentwho underwrote much of the research and development costs, initially forfingerprint identification in the early 1970s. Today, in addition to hand,iris and retinal scanning, work is being done in the areas of voiceprinting and signature verification.

Wireless data transmissionAlthough wireless voice transmission has been around for ages, it has neverbeen more evident — as confirmed by the millions of cellular phones thathave now become a commodity. The transmission of data without wires,however, is also becoming more visible to the public. Wireless tracking ofdeliveries, popularized by the United Parcel Service, is a prime examplehow up-to-the-moment information about deliverables can be instantlysupplied to the public. Today, field service personnel can interrogate acentral database about the location of a part or subassembly, and requestimmediate delivery — all without wires and without having to make multiplephone calls. Vending machines can broadcast their status to a centralcomputer when they are running out of soda, candy or change, as canelectric meters, if they’re interfaced to transmit their customer’s monthlypower usage.

In terms of its effects on future security, wireless data transmission willallow buses, taxis and even car services to transmit their locations tonearby tracking centers periodically and automatically. Electronicmonitoring equipment in ambulances will remotely access a patient’s filesand supply updates on his current conditions to the intended hospital.Security systems, while currently being able to use radio to transmit alarmdata to a central station, will also transmit camera images andconversations taking place at the time of an intrusion.

False alarm preventionFalse alarms have always been a concern for the security industry. Whilethe vast majority of alarm systems do their jobs quite well, the sounds offalse alarms disturb neighborhoods and may unnecessarily dispatch policeand emergency services. There are many reasons why false alarms occur, thechief among them are user errors, malfunctioning or poorly designedequipment and inadequate or questionable installation techniques.Nonetheless, to conform to SIA’s (the Security Industry Association)recommendations for deterring false alarms, virtually all future alarmcontrol systems will be equipped with programmable features like these:

* Swingers” (multiple alarms from the same point due to a malfunction) willbe restricted to only a certain number within any armed period.

* Smoke detectors will have to be electronically “verified” before they canactually generate an alarm.

* The ability to “cross zone” will be available, allowing two or morerelated zones to be “ANDed”, thus requiring simultaneous trips before analarm will occur.

* A delay before an alarm communication must be available to permituser-caused alarms to be aborted before they reach the central station.

* Audible and visual indications must be available during the entry andexit delay periods, to alert users to conform to the system’s operatingrequirements.

Automatic self-testingMany alarm controls will have an automatic maintenance provision, whichwill perform periodic checks on itself and many of its components. A bustest, for example, will allow the system to verify the connections and theoperation of all its keypads and expansion modules. The resultingdisplayable and printable reports will point to potential problems whichmay be caused by faulty wiring, poor connections or component degradation.Early detection of this type is valuable in eliminating the potential forfalse alarms and major problems later on.

Intelligent motion detectorsThe most popular of all motion detectors, the PIR is basically a simpledevice that is designed to recognize significant changes in the infraredenergy within an area and report it as an intrusion. Although PIRs havebeen markedly improved since their mass acceptance around 1980, they stillhave their limitations in terms of detection range and incidences of falsealarms. The movement of pets in an unattended home has always been a majorconcern of alarm installers and a potential cause of unwanted alarms inPIRs — in spite of measures taken to the contrary. PIRs of the future willlikely have an on-board database containing the digitized equivalents ofactual and anticipated patterns of human movement. Whenever changes in IRenergy are detected, the pattern will be digitized and compared to those inthe database. Patterns matching human movement will cause the unit to trip;other patterns, although detected, will be rejected, substantially reducingfalse alarms.

Graphic displaysBoth homes and businesses will have LCD panels connected to their securitysystems capable of displaying the layout of the premises with highresolution graphics in both two- and three-dimensional views. Points orareas having faulted zones, prior alarms and/or bypasses, will be clearlyvisible and can be acknowledged and even corrected by a simple touch (alongwith the entry of a valid user code) of the display. Such displays couldalso furnish a log about previous alarms, prior uses of the system, likelycauses of false activations, corrective actions taken and so forth.

Home automation/home integrationHome automation technology is already adding new dimensions andopportunities for security system integration. As costs drop, as acceptanceand awareness grow, and as new construction incorporates this technologyinto its design, more and more of us will enjoy the benefits of having homesecurity integrated with household scheduling and controls. All of thefollowing will be possible:

* Voice Activation: Once an individual’s voice patterns and uniquecharacteristics are memorized by the system, it will be possible toconverse with a security system and obtain any necessary information byexpressing queries and commands without the need for a keypad.

* Robotic Systems: Using artificial intelligence, future systems willautomatically learn a family’s behavior patterns and adjust itselfaccordingly, without the need for programming. Security componentsintegrated into such a system will similarly benefit as they are armed anddisarmed automatically, while making accommodations for those still onpremises.

Fiber opticsFor many years, fiber optics has been a medium of transmission used by thecommunications industries to convey audio, video and data. Onedistinguishing advantage of fiber optic transmission is its immunity toelectronic noise caused by lightning, RFI (radio frequency interference)and EMI (electromagnetic interference). Fiber optics may soon find its wayinto the detection and signaling circuits of security systems in many homesand businesses, relegating interference-caused false alarms to a thing ofthe past.

Security and the InternetWe’ve already read how communication over the Internet has saved lives,sometimes well into far reaches of the world when the concerns of caringindividuals have triggered the mobilization of emergency services. Becauseof the technology built into the Internet, information about alarms,including video and audio components, may be routed not only to the CentralStation, but also directly to agencies created to store such information –possibly providing a means for identification of individual faces, criminalpatterns, and behavior.

The future brings with it many conceivable changes and improvements in thearea of security, although they won’t be without their growing pains, bothtechnically and otherwise. Our best wishes to all of you for a HappyHoliday Season.

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