As body worn cameras become more widely used, they will have to slim down and weigh less, says Tim Lilleyman, Operations Manager, Pinnacle Response.
For decades, the idea of wearing a body camera as a member of staff has become not just accepted, but realistically expected in many settings.
That is assuming your role is, in part, public facing. Given that this concept was implemented before most people had a camera on their mobile phone, it seemed bizarre back in the day.
Pinnacle Response – A lot has changed
A lot has changed and not all positive, such as verbal and physical attacks on staff and more surprisingly, sexual abuse.
Surprisingly, medical staff are amongst the most abused and these incidents are rising. These people dedicate their career to helping the public, where has it all gone so wrong?
During a recent security conference, I listened carefully to the director of a large retail organisation speaking candidly about one well known city-based high street branch, where every public facing member of staff has a case pending court due to abuse from customers.
Consider the benchmark
We understand why body cameras are so important. Normally, body cameras offer a huge range of options in terms of hardware, ranging from basic plug and play devices, with no file protection with respect to data encryption, right up the most sophisticated fully encrypted camera with built-in 4G/5G connectivity and even support facial recognition.
Is there a benchmark specification that suites the general job description of a body worn camera? Not really, there are a limited number of features that we do find common place across all sectors.
For example, data encryption, footage resolution, the lens angle, pre-record and very importantly, the running time for both recording and standby of the battery.
Most RFQs come with some expectation of what these items should be. What do these standards look like? In general, it is expected that a reasonable level camera should encrypt files to AES 256 and provide video quality of 1080p.
Lens angles range from 120 to 140 degrees giving a nice wide view without obscuring the subject.
Pre-record is a great feature which shows a recording (without) audio for a short, specified time before the camera record button is pressed.
This small recording can range from 20 seconds to 240 seconds without audio and offers an insight into why the wearer switched on record. This short pre-recording provides context to the event.
Finally, the output provided by the battery to ensure the camera can practically remain on standby, operate pre-record for a full shift and then still record enough footage during operation.
This all sounds very straight forward and practical. However, more features mean less time the camera can remain on standby and record time can be severely compromised.
How do manufactures handle this challenge? They have several options, they can increase the battery capacity which typically range from 1000mah in very small compact units, up to 3500mah in larger devices. Just as a larger screen on your mobile impacts on battery life, the same applies with body cameras.
More features and longer running time equals a larger product design and heavier unit. Unfortunately, there is no completely novel solution to this predicament currently. A combination of improved battery technology and more efficient product firmware does present the opportunity to improve this, but it’s still a fundamental restriction for both mobile phone technology and body cameras.
A change in concept
A new concept has emerged recently and two of the main UK manufacturers have focused heavily on this approach. Say hello to the era of the small lightweight camera.
Considering the comments made previously regarding battery capacity being the main restriction for body camera technology, one may assume that condensing technology into a smaller package would only exacerbate the problem. This would be the correct assumption, and this is why.
Body camera usage has been deeply engrained in many business sectors for many years now, that the expectation and performance ‘norms’ we commented on earlier are basically a benchmark. Customers and especially users want all the good stuff they’ve had for many years now, but in this tiny, lightweight package.
What do we mean by small and light weight? Let’s be clear, we aren’t talking about spy cameras or covert recording. What we are saying is this new breed of camera is around the size of a small matchbox and weighs less than 100g.
What performance is expected from these relatively small devices?
The expectation is to have the same or close to the same performance as your typical standard size camera with all the fundamental features like encrypt files to AES 256, video quality of 1080p, lens angles range from 120 to 140 degrees and compatibility with a DAMs software.
Going one step further, one of the main UK-based manufacturers even include a small forward-facing screen in their solution.
We are all too aware that technology does progress, battery charging times are reducing and output is smoother and longer lasting than ever before.
What drives the small camera concept?
Many body camera users already wear a long list of other items that range from two-way radios to body armour. It seems like a perfectly logical expectation to want to reduce these items’ weight.
Many sectors which have recently started using BWC, such as retail, many employees don’t even wear a uniform or PPE. They might wear a lightweight top with a heavy, bulky camera unit hanging from their clothing.
Policing and frontline security kit feels out of place in a high-end clothing store, for instance.
In other cases, healthcare staff wear lightweight uniforms and it would be ridiculous to expect them to wear a chest or shoulder harness on shift.
Body camera designs can be reduced in size and weight while still offering a similar specification in performance and features.
A case of preference
As a body camera manufacturer, we have considered this question and find its very much a case of preference.
The trend we see is this, where you have a staff member in a more volatile environment performing what could be considered an ‘enforcement role’, the larger more robust units would be right choice.
In the case of a more casual user that could be considered a ‘helper’ and really wears the camera as a deterrent and back in the case of a difficult member of the public, the smaller units are ideal.
Essentially, it’s a case of ‘horses for courses’ and what works for a business in one area may or may not work for the same type of business in another area.
This is where trialling the product prior to purchase becomes such an important part of the process. We would strongly recommend the customer, no matter what the sector is, try’s both styles of product and makes a fully informed decision.
Given that there is a clear size and weight difference between the standard size unit and the and new smaller designs, does it follow that the smaller units should be more commercially advantageous?
Value for money
When you consider the products contained within both designs, the BOM (bill of materials) it’s clear that most of the parts are smaller and therefore one would expect lower cost.
This assumption is generally correct and great news. In some cases, the smaller units can be almost half the price of the standard size unit.
This is something that not only has a positive effect on the initial first purchase price, but a longer-term benefit to camera deployment. Most customers that purchase cameras intend to use these for as long as the product is viable.
Specifically with body cameras, the expected service life of three to five years is quite normal, in extreme cases it can be much more. In any case, as a similar technology product comparison, it would be a much longer service life that a mobile phone.
During that lifespan, things do happen, damage, cameras getting lost, and theft all come into play. This is where the second cost benefit is realised as the base unit is typically lower cost to replace.
With the prevalence of body cameras today, I hear some say, ‘I’m not bothered about the size or look of the camera, I just need a camera for my work, so I bought one from an online reseller and its great. It cost less than 100 quid and it works perfectly’.
That may well be the case for some, at least for the short-term. To draw on another technology comparison, there is one very well-known market leading action camera that just about everyone knows the name of.
Anyone that has one usually comments how well they work, but you can purchase any number of similar versions through online resellers. At the risk of criticism, the well know brand is just a better product that costs a bit more money.
The features offered work and the camera is widely used by TV crews to film action shots all over the world. Now, you might be lucky if you take a chance on a cheaper alternative and then again, you might be very unlucky also.
Camera or software?
If you want a camera that offers a comprehensive GDPR compliant software like a UK based DEMs (digital evidence management system/software) a buyer is very unlikely to get a quality option with a low-cost unit.
There are indeed some camera suppliers offering a version. However, these are typically hosted on a cloud server in China, not be subject to the level of UK testing and usually very basic.
The second item to consider is the technical support provided along with the device and DEMS software.
As with all technology-based products, they do go wrong from time to time. In our experience, its generally the customers network that causes the issue, but there lots of reasons why a customer big or small would want a strong technical team available to smooth out any issues and in some cases repair damage to hardware. These are things that aren’t included in low-cost solutions.