A View on Security

Security is big news these days. At the heart of this trend are issues such as crime, terrorism, industrial espionage, and employee theft. To fend off these threats, government, businesses, and even homeowners are increasingly turning to sensor technology.

As a matter of fact, the list of sensor-based security applications is long—and getting longer. We put radiation and chemical sensors in cargo containers. Biometric fingerprint sensors guard key access points in government, corporate, and medical facilities. Networks of tiny sensors monitor the perimeters of military and nuclear installations. And motion sensors watch over the homes of the rich and famous.

Image Sensors
Let's not forget another crucial technology in this arsenal: image sensors. The technology isn't new, but its expanding role is. According to Lehman Brothers, the physical security industry is a rapidly growing market, generating revenues of $50 billion. And the makers of CCD and CMOS cameras are getting an ever-greater piece of the pie.

The industrial side of this market relies primarily on the more expensive high-performance CCD cameras. This leaves the less costly CMOS sensors with the small business and home security markets. But we're not talking about small potatoes here. According to WiLife Inc., a provider of low-cost PC-based digital video surveillance systems, this segment of the market spends over $25 billion on security devices.

CMOS providers aren't sitting idly around, either. A recent article in EETimes reported enhanced new image-sensing products and cost reductions that will position a number of vendors, including Micron Technology and OmniVision, to take advantage of this market.

The Small Business Market
A number of factors make the small business market promising. First and foremost, is the growing need of these businesses to protect their property. For example, small start-up companies are a major source of cutting-edge technology, so they are prime targets for industrial espionage. To protect their intellectual property and trade secrets, they turn to affordable security systems.

At the same time, retail businesses must defend against multiple threats: employee theft and shoplifting. In a study funded by ADT Security Services, Inc., a unit of Tyco Fire and Security Services, the University of Florida found that retail security managers attributed 48.5% of their losses to employee theft, costing retailers $15 billion. The same study pointed out that shoplifting was responsible for 31.7% of retail losses last year, amounting to $10 billion.

With the need established, costs coming down, and functionality improving, CMOS-based security systems would seem to be the technological answer to small businesses' security needs. All of a sudden, the umbrella of security just got bigger, offering small businesses benefits comparable to those enjoyed by the big boys.