Security cameras gaining varied uses in homes, businesses in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A security camera in Mirai Tower streams images of the area around Hisaya-odori Park in Nagoya.

Security cameras, originally aimed at stemming crime, are being put to a wide variety of uses these days.

As performance and functions become higher in line with advances in information technology, security cameras are finding applications in such diverse areas as tourism and behavior analysis, even the monitoring of pets at home.

Dropping prices are helping to make them more accessible to consumers.

Video streaming

At any time of day, the view from Chubu Electric Power Co.’s Mirai Tower, a tourist attraction in Nagoya, of the area around Hisaya-odori Park can be seen on YouTube.

The livestream comes from a security camera installed in the window of a shared office space on the third floor of the Mirai Tower in early December. It allows people to see how crowded the area is, the traffic situation, and even the weather in real time.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Household security cameras to monitor pets are displayed at the BicCamera Nagoya Station West Store in Nagoya.

According to Trinity Inc., a major security equipment manufacturer based in Nagoya, the video had about 11,000 views by the end of last year, but increased to about 87,000 as of Feb. 15. The captioning on the video can be used to announce events or promote taking precautions against the novel coronavirus.

The standard usage fee starts at ¥14,300 per month, including tax and installation costs. “During the pandemic, demand picked up at tourist spots, shopping centers and the like,” Trinity President Takuya Kanematsu said.

Higher resolution

Security cameras of the past provided black-and-white images that were so grainy that only the shape of a car could be seen from 10 meters away.

These days, there are a number of devices with several million pixels of resolution that can clearly capture license plate numbers and facial expressions.

New businesses and products are continually emerging that utilize these clear images for analysis and other applications using artificial intelligence.

From September 2020, NTT Communications Corp. and other companies have been testing a verification system that analyzes images using AI from security cameras installed in the underground plaza of Hisaya-odori Park.

They have been able to detect suspicious persons, lost children and people in physical distress, and analyze the behavior of park visitors using anonymous smartphone location data.

Nagoya-based Digital Cube Technology started the sales of an AI camera that can provide verbal warnings last fall. When the AI system detects an unregistered person or vehicle entering the area, it issues a warning such as, “Entry is prohibited.” In addition, it can send images to the smartphones of security personnel and others.

In November last year, Kintetsu Railway Co. introduced a remote monitoring system using security cameras and sensors at two railroad crossings on the Nagoya Line, including near Hisai Station in Tsu.

The system can immediately assess problems based on camera images and data from warning devices, circuit breakers and other equipment.

Affordable price range

Prices of security cameras are continuing to fall. On the sales floor of the BicCamera Nagoya Station West Store, there are about 20 types of home-use security cameras, priced from ¥3,000 to under ¥40,000.

Panasonic Corp.’s indoor HD camera, priced in the ¥10,000 range, allows users to monitor children, pets, and the elderly while away from home via their smartphones. It also has functions to detect movement, temperature and other factors.

“We’re seeing many pet owners make purchases,” an on-site staff member said.

According to market esearch company Fuji Keizai, the domestic market for commercial security cameras is expected to grow from ¥56.3 billion in 2020 to ¥61.9 billion in 2024.

However, while security cameras improve security and convenience for users, they also pose the risk of images being leaked, depending on the settings made at the time of installation.

IT journalist Yo Mikami said there have been cases of video images becoming viewable on the internet because the individual or company did not set the password themselves.

“Users need to take measures such as not reusing passwords,” Mikami said.