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Cross-Pollination Yields Bumper Crop of Ideas

In nature, cross-pollination gives plants the genetic variability they need to adapt to change. In business, the cross-pollination of ideas among sectors can have the same effect. Security has been a beneficiary of that process, flourishing by attracting innovators from multiple disciplines. Some of those benefits were evident from products on display at the ASIS International 55th Annual Seminar and Exhibits.

One example was a new twist on surveillance technology from the company Scallop Imaging. President Peter Jones, a photographer and inventor whose ideas have been incorporated into products for Polaroid and the military, saw the potential of bringing the technology used in cell phone cameras to the world of surveillance.

Rather than putting a fisheye lens on a camera to get a 180 degree view, Jones envisioned putting five tiny cell-phone-type lenses into a single camera. The images are then computationally combined. He calls it distributed imaging. Advantages include the ability to handle a wider range of lighting conditions, and because the sensors are very tiny, nearly everything is in focus from two feet to infinity.

Another example of cross-pollination is Feeling Software, whose innovators come from the world of computer games. Christian LaForte and his brother Guillaume developed a 3D graphic engine for real-time gaming. A year ago, they saw the potential of that technology for improving situational awareness in security surveillance systems. The resulting product, Omnipresence 3D, is being tested by the Canadian university Ecole Polytechnique. It enables a 3D seamless live view of someone moving throughout a building without the need for an operator to think about the logistics.

Diebold has cross-pollinated ideas among its own vertical markets. By drawing on what one executive called its 80 years of drive-up technology, gathered from experiences with bank teller drive-throughs, and integrating access control, smart card reader, RFID, and camera technology, it developed GateMaster, a product that automates vehicle inspection at military checkpoints. Currently the military has to individually inspect tens of thousands of cars daily at some bases. This product, being piloted at two sites, would make it possible to inspect 10 to 12 cars per minute.

An example of a crossover from the IT world is TimeSight Systems CEO Charles Foley. He “grew up at IBM,” he says, but has since become an entrepreneur, launching several businesses. His newest venture, TimeSight, has developed innovative ways to address the growing industry need to store video for the long term cost-effectively.

 Even with cross-pollination, ideas take time to germinate into real-world capabilities. In Scallop’s case, “It was not a trivial task,” notes Jones. “It took us four and a half years to figure out how to make it work.” Similarly, says Foley, “We started developing the technology in 2004.” 

But without the input from outsiders, such innovations likely would have taken even longer—or they might not have occurred at all.