GEOconnexion (GEO): The company, was launched with VC backing just a year ago to further the use of 3D laser scanning and photogrammetry in UK policing and security operations. So what does it bring to the table that is not already on offer?
Paul Snudden (PS): It’s true that, thanks to a £3 million investment by the Department of Transport in 2011 and with equal funding from constabularies, 3D terrestrial laser scanning has been adopted by police forces across England to record scenes of serious road traffic accidents. Use of the technique to rapidly gather evidence has been highly successful in offsetting the £1 billion annual loss to the economy that would otherwise be caused by lengthy road closures. With the exception of my own specialism in getting start-up businesses off the ground, all our directors have been involved in these ground-breaking projects.
What we are now setting out to do is to use that experience to push the boundaries of the technology and promote its use along with other techniques such as spatial CCTV analysis in areas of untapped potential - crime scene recording and reconstruction, asset tracking, event security and counter-terrorism training, for example.
GEO: Can’t police forces do this for themselves?
Mark DeGiovanni (MD): My experience in the Metropolitan Police is typical in that while champions of 3D laser scanning have a good reputation within policing, their positioning within the hierarchy makes it extremely difficult to exploit the potential of the technology beyond immediate requirements. We feel that, as an independent centre of excellence, we can demonstrate that potential more effectively and develop new applications and working techniques more quickly.
GEO: If this is Advanced Laser Scanning’s raison d’etre, does it make sound business sense?
PS: Two things struck me when researching the market at home and abroad. First, the limited way in which the technology is being exploited given its wider possibilities and, perhaps allied to this, the limited scale of adoption across organisations. The scope for doing business is therefore evident. That said, it’s a market that needs careful nurturing and where education and awareness is a major factor, so we are not looking for a quick payback.
GEO: So what has the company been doing over the past year?
PS: The initial thrust was to assemble a 16-strong team at our offices in Chiswick, West London, and get our applications, techniques and processes right for the policing and related markets. With the expertise we’ve recruited, that’s been relatively easy. We’ve also achieved listing on the National Crime Agency’s Expert Advisers Database to provide specialised 3D laser imaging measurement and analysis services.
We are now exploring possibilities with half a dozen UK police forces as to how they can move forward, both in their application of the technology and its integration with their operational systems. The cost-benefits for those forces could be substantial, but every force has its own procurement process and we have to demonstrate that the investment is viable.
MD: As Paul says, we are making inroads at grass roots level, but changes being pushed through by the Home Office Police Reform Unit (e.g., the proposal to establish a streamlined digital case file as part of the Criminal Justice System*) offer much bigger, longer-term opportunities.
We’re able to support the next step in this reform with digital crime scene data. Unlike diagrams, photographs or physical models, such 3D digital reconstructions can give juries a much greater understanding of events as they occurred. For example, if we reconstruct the trajectory of a bullet as it entered a window and then impacted a wall, a ballistics expert will be better able to explain how wind and other factors affected its course over distance.
The protocols and competencies governing this type of digital evidence, from the moment of capture to presentation in court, are currently being formulated and we are assisting in this. I believe its adoption will add an immense amount of clarity to the judicial process and make a massive impact when adopted across the whole of the Criminal Justice System.
GEO: Presumably the private security sector has its own priorities and requirements when it comes to new technology. How are you addressing this market segment?
PS: The private sector is, of course, able to move more swiftly when it sees technology potential and we are gaining real traction here, not least in offering clients a service to plan and optimise CCTV camera positions and then to analyse and interpret the captured data and footage. The service is equally applicable to permanent structures, such as streets and buildings, and to special events such as open air gatherings, sporting fixtures, and so on.
MD: Event organisers have traditionally worked in a benign security environment. However, big occasions like the London Olympics, FIFA World Cup, Commonwealth Games and the upcoming Rugby World Cup have concentrated minds as never before on the need to manage risk by optimising assets. That’s where we fit in, by providing a framework for data capture, analysis and sharing similar to that we have evolved for policing.
GEO: What tools have you adopted in your workflow?
MD: In terms of 3D modelling, the majority are commercial off-the-shelf software packages such as Rhino from Robert McNeel and Studio Max from Autodesk. For point cloud rendering, we employ Pointools from Bentley, Arena 4D from Veesus and Geoverse from Euclideon. Each has its strengths and weaknesses depending on the task in hand, and the same is true of hardware. Here, our choice of scanner is based on working distance, speed of capture, and whether an internal or external survey is required. It’s all about choosing the right kit for the job.
As most of our projects are conducted at site level, we don’t have a GIS ourselves but can, of course, generate output in formats to suit most such systems. We have done some exploratory work looking at city-wide coverage of CCTV systems as part of the inter-governmental Safer Cities initiative. Should this translate into longer-term business, we will undoubtedly need a mapping capability.
GEO: While the UK is clearly the company’s key geographical market, does it have wider ambitions?
PS: Very much so. The Middle East is shaping-up as a prime market for us and we’ve also been exploring opportunities in the US. I must say that, in both areas, we’ve had excellent support from UK government departments in engaging with us, identifying suitable partners, and promoting our export potential. We’ve recently completed a mission to Washington and are gearing up to exhibit at this year’s Emirates Security Exhibition and Conference (EmSEC) in Dubai.
GEO: You earlier mentioned the development of new applications. Can you elaborate on this?
MD: Yes, the latest addition to our portfolio is CCTVerify. This managed service captures a location in 3D and uses images from CCTV cameras to accurately reconstruct the precise Field of View for each camera. It is intended for security companies who want to add value to their client offering, both in checking the efficiency of existing CCTV installations and in designing, planning and testing new ones. The resulting 3D dataset has many other uses too: from health and safety monitoring, through site familiarisation to Facilities Management and evacuation planning.
* Transforming the CJS: A Strategy and Action Plan to Reform the Criminal Justice System. Cm 8658. HMSO. June 2013.
More information at www.advancedlaserimaging.com
1: Mark DeGiovanni (left) and Paul Snudden
2: This 3D volumetric analysis performed by CCTVerify reconstructs fields of view from cameras covering a car park. It reveals where identification is possible, ranging from poor (yellow) to good (red); highlights areas where intruders can be recognised (blue), and where movement is detectable (green)
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