The rise of surveillance start-ups in India

As part of their pilot program, Staqu observes prison fights in UP.

NASSCOM’s key comment on India’s Union Budget noted how the country is betting big on technology. They believe it will help shape this decade as the decade of technology in India, even calling it a “Techie”. However, a rising concern with India’s multiplying IT industry is the state of surveillance tech affairs with the PDP bill not being passed. 

Modern-day computer vision algorithms have mastered face recognition, object recognition and event recognition tasks. But video surveillance has been a controversial subject since the birth of AI, with its applications spanning from privacy hindering scrutiny to identifying criminals. Just last year, a suit was filed against the Telangana government for their continued surveillance during the pandemic. While state governments started monitoring their citizens to ensure COVID-19 safety during the lockdown, many have not stopped it, even after it is over. But this suit was the first to be filed. TechSci Research estimated India’s facial recognition market will grow six-fold by 2024 to $4.3 billion. This would be almost on par with China.

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Surveillance start-ups

Notwithstanding such criticism, Gurgaon based start-up Staqu is on the verge of making headlines with their Jarvis solution, a surveillance camera with a microphone. India’s Digital India campaign encourages upcoming AI/ML solutions for country-wide problems, and Staqu’s has already been leveraged by the UP government. 

Jarvis is known for its violence detection, pose detection, person detection and facial recognition solutions to identify blacklisted people, number-plate recognition, detect intrusion and more. The new update not only watches these crimes but also listens to them. Their audio analytics monitors the city, with a larger mission to create smarter cities. Staqu’s AI system can recognise distress sounds like gunshots or a person’s scream. This technology is powered by CNNs that further identify the sound types in a scene and discern patterns in them.

As part of their pilot program, the company is observing prison fights in UP. Additionally, it is being used in the retail and manufacturing sectors to detect distress sounds. Claiming it to be a product that has revolutionalised modern security, Staqu has described Jarvis as an “AI-based customisable Video Analytics Engine with state-of-the-art facial recognition technology and intelligent monitoring of objects, crowd, perimeters and vehicles.” 

All in all, Staqu has collaborated with eight state police forces to provide their solutions in construction, hospitality, banking, ITES, and retail, to generate actionable insights from CCTV footages with their real-time alert providing AI and computer vision technology. These cameras also alert nearby hospitals or police stations in case of an accident. 

Staqu has raised major privacy concerns with ethicists and research groups questioning the usage of such technologies by states along with its lack of transparency. Unlike data protection bills in the EU and the US, India’s PDP bill is still in the works. Such applications can be dangerous in the absence of legal frameworks to monitor them. But this is not stopping tons of surveillance based tech start-ups from making it big in the country.

Last year, IIT-B researchers, in collaboration with NCETIS and SrivisifAI Technologies, leveraged the 2017 founded platform, Surakshavyuh, to apply for military and remote monitoring of social distancing surveillance. The platform is an ML-powered enterprise-grade video analytics solution to detect physical intrusion and loitering. The technology can monitor perimeters, track objects, count crowds and recognise faces, among other solutions. In addition, the team’s solutions alert end-users of products to take requisite actions. 

Hyderabad based start-up iVIS provides security and surveillance software and hardware solutions for companies, including video surveillance and management solution. The solution includes live video, monthly activity summary, sending messages, and accessing archived video clips. Live feeds can be accessed using mobile devices as well. Start-ups like Videonetics, Innefu Labs and FaceTagr are more such start-ups used by state governments for surveillance. 

Is there positive surveillance?

At the end of 2021, Sashastra Seema Bal and the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology jointly launched the Hackathon DRISHTI that aims to improve border security and illegal intrusion with the help of surveillance. The solutions would detect suspected vehicles and leverage drones to monitor the vulnerable areas. The SSB invited several Indian start-ups to provide solutions in any data format and surveil the Indian borders to achieve this technology. The hackathon awards Rs 10 lakh and Rs 5 lakh to the winner and runner up, respectively. 

Surveillance tech has proved to be useful and helpful in several situations, and while not all of its applications are dangerous, it is important for India to welcome this tech along with frameworks to ensure dutiful usage is maintained. 

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Avi Gopani
Avi Gopani is a technology journalist that seeks to analyse industry trends and developments from an interdisciplinary perspective at Analytics India Magazine. Her articles chronicle cultural, political and social stories that are curated with a focus on the evolving technologies of artificial intelligence and data analytics.

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