Comment, Industrial, Outdoor, Transport

What would happen if we brought lighting and surveillance cameras together?

London's King's Cross station - full of lights and full of CCTV cameras. I've got an idea... | Photo: Will Scott, courtesy of ACDC

Ten years ago if you said you were a regular loiterer around the King’s Cross area of London, you would no doubt be under the close watch of the police. Back then King’s Cross wasn’t the most salubrious of neighbourhoods, with its massage parlours, fast food joints and a broad selection of tramps and down-and-outs.

The most redeeming feature of the area was that you could hop on a mainline train and escape London. But the station back then was awful: it was dark, the concourse was cramped and when your train was late you had very few options but to look at the well-thumbed magazines in WH Smith or grab a greasy burger. These days the station and surrounding areas are a triumph of urban regeneration, with public spaces and light and airy stations. Trains still run late, but these days when you’re delayed, you can choose to gorge yourself on anything from Japanese Bento or Mexican burritos, to pulled pork sandwiches and cocktails. Not hungry? Do some shopping in Waitrose or M&S, buy a book or have your photograph taken at platform 93/4 of Harry Potter fame.

King’s Cross station has also had its share of tragedy. In 1987, 31 people died in a fire in the underground station. In 1973 the station was the scene of an IRA bombing, which explains why, along with most other UK stations, there are no litter bins. King’s Cross was also a staging post for the 7/7 terrorist bombings 10 years ago – one culprit was captured on CCTV popping into WH Smith to buy a 9V battery to use in the bomb.

Which brings me on to the point of this month’s ramblings. While loitering around King’s Cross a few weeks ago I noticed just how many CCTV cameras the redeveloped station now has. It must run in to a good few hundred – they are everywhere, 20 covering the taxi rank, loads at every entrance, ticket barrier and nook or cranny. They are inside highly visible black domes, so you can’t tell which area they cover.

What if these two worlds – lights and cameras –were brought together? This could streamline the design process, reduce installation costs, eliminate miles of cabling and reduce clutter in public spaces”

I’d suggest there are more CCTV cameras than lighting points, and I’m sure the amount of design work for the CCTV system equals or exceeds that which went in to the lighting. I’m also sure the CCTV system is well maintained, and that the specification was pretty rigid and not subject to any value engineering. I’m sure the dialogue between the various design teams was minimal, sure the camera people will have a view on the amount of light, and where they need it. The architect probably does not approve of the acne on the ceiling that the lights and black dome cameras represent.

What if these two worlds – lights and cameras –were brought together? This could streamline the design process, reduce installation costs, eliminate miles of cabling and reduce clutter in public spaces. This does present challenges of course. The design process would be more complex, designers would have to add another string to their bows – lighting manufacturers would have to become camera people, or vice versa.

It’s already starting to happen. One of the standout products I saw at Lightfair in New York this year was what we now know as the ‘angry light’. It combines camera, lighting and sensor technology to create a light that can monitor and react to what is going on around it. The implementation we saw was targeted at car dealer forecourts. The light can set up a ‘geofence’ around a protected area, then once crossed at the wrong time of day, the light will react by either voicing a warning, flashing the lights and at the same time start to record activity.

The camera people reading this will scoff because this technology has been around for years, but perhaps now lighting people are starting to wake up to the high-spec, critical market of CCTV and the sales opportunities it brings.