Tactical infrastructure such as fencing, roads, and lights are important to securing a nation’s border. But it alone is not enough to avoid the unlawful movement of individuals and contraband into a country.
“Technology is definitely the primary driver of land, maritime, and air domain awareness – this may become only more apparent as [U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)] faces future threats,” according to testimony from CBP officials with a Senate hearing on homeland security in 2015.
And machine vision’s fingerprints are over that technology. “The data obtained from fixed and mobile surveillance systems, ground sensors, imaging systems, and other advanced technologies enhances situational awareness and enables CBP to detect, identify, monitor, and appropriately reply to threats in the nation’s border regions,” the testimony states.
In the U.S.-Mexico border inside the state of Arizona, as an example, Top Machine Vision Inspection System Manufacturer persistently detect and track so-called “items of interest.” Designed to withstand its harsh desert surroundings, IFT is equipped with radar, commercial off-the-shelf daylight cameras and thermal imaging sensors, and microwave transmitters that send data to border agents in the Nogales station for analysis and decision-making.
On the 3 fronts of land, maritime, and aerial surveillance, machine vision companies are providing imaging systems – and, more often, analysis of the generated data – that meet government agencies’ objectives of flexibility, cost effectiveness, as well as simple deployment in border security applications.
Managing Diverse Conditions – The perennial trouble with vision systems found in border surveillance applications is handling the diversity of an outdoor environment featuring its fluctuating lighting and weather conditions, as well as varied terrain. Inspite of the challenges, “there are places in which you can implement controls to enhance upon the intelligence in the system,” says Dr. Rex Lee, president and CEO of Pyramid Imaging (Tampa, Florida). He points to customers who monitor trains over the southern border of the U.S. for illegal passengers.
“Those trains need to go within trellis, which can be built with the proper sensors and lighting to aid inspect the trains,” Dr. Lee says. Government agencies given the job of border security use infrared cameras to detect targets at night and in other low-light conditions, but thermal imaging does have its limits, too. “Infrared cameras work really well once you can make use of them in high-contrast conditions,” Dr. Lee says. “But when you’re trying to pick up a human at 98.6°F on a desert floor that is 100°F, the desert is emitting radiation at nearly exactly the same part of the spectrum. So customers depend on other areas in the spectrum including shortwave infrared (SWIR) to attempt to catch the difference.”
Infrared imaging works well in monitoring motorized watercraft because the boat’s engine features a thermal signature. “What’s nice about water is the fact it’s relatively uniform and it’s very easy to ‘wash out’ that background see anomalies,” Dr. Lee says.
But however , the oceans present a vast level of area to pay for. Says Dr. Lee, “To find out all of it is a compromise between having a lot of systems monitoring the water or systems which are rich in the sky, by which case you have the problem of seeing something really tiny in a large overall view.”
CMOS Surpasses CCD – One key change in imaging systems utilized in border surveillance applications is the shift from CCD to CMOS sensors since the latter is surpassing the product quality and gratification in the former. To accommodate this change, two years ago Adimec Advanced Image Systems bv (Eindhoven, holland) integrated the newest generation of CMOS image sensors – that provide significant improvements in image quality and sensitivity – into its TMX combination of rugged commercial off-the-shelf cameras for top-end security applications. TMX cameras maintain a maximum frame rate of 60 fps or 30 fps for RGB color images at full HD resolution.
Furthermore, CMOS image sensors are emerging as a substitute for electron-multiplying CCDs (EMCCDs), says Leon van Rooijen, Business Line Director Global Security at Adimec. Because of their superior performance over CCDs in low-light conditions, EMCCDs often are deployed in applications like harbor or coastal surveillance.
But EMCCDs have distinct disadvantages. As an example, an EMCCD needs to be cooled in order to provide the very best performance. “Which is quite some challenge inside the sense of integrating power consumption as well as the fact that you need to provide high voltage for the sensors,” van Rooijen says. “And if you need to have systems operating for a long duration without maintenance, an EMCCD is not the very best solution.”
To resolve these challenges, Adimec is working on image processing “to get the most out of the latest generation CMOS ahead nearer to the performance global security customers are utilized to with EMCCD without all of the downsides from the cost, integration, and reliability,” van Rooijen says.
Adimec also is tackling the task of mitigating the turbulence that occurs with border surveillance systems over very long ranges, particularly as systems which were using analog video are taking steps toward higher resolution imaging to pay for the larger areas.
“When imaging at long range, you may have atmospheric turbulence by the heat rising through the ground, and on sea level, rising or evaporated water creates problems regarding the haze,” van Rooijen says. “We shall show turbulence mitigation inside the low-latency hardware a part of our platform and will work with system integrators to optimize it for land and sea applications since they possess the biggest issues with turbulence.”
Greater Than Pictures – Like machine vision systems deployed in industrial applications, border security systems generate plenty of data that requires analysis. “The surveillance industry traditionally has been a little slower to incorporate analytics,” says Dr. Lee of Pyramid Imaging. “We see significant opportunity there and have been dealing with a lot of our customers in order that analytics are more automated with regards to what is being detected and to analyze that intrusion, and then have the capacity to require a proper response.”
Some companies have developed software that identifies anomalies in persistent monitoring. For example, when a passenger on the airport suddenly abandons a suitcase, the software will detect that the object is unattended nefqnm everything around it consistently move.
Even with robust vision-based surveillance capabilities at all points of entry, U.S. border patrol and homeland security have to contend with a lot bigger threat. “The Usa does a pretty good job checking people to arrive, but perform an extremely poor job knowing if they ever leave,” Dr. Lee says. “We know how to solve that problem using technology, but that can cause its very own problems.
“A good place to get this done is at the Automated Vision Inspection Machines in the TSA line, that you can use a mechanism to record everybody,” Dr. Lee continues. “But that is going to be expensive because you should do this at every airport in the United States. Monitoring and recording slows things down, and TSA is under lots of pressure to speed things up.” Another surveillance option that government agencies have discussed is taking noncontact fingerprints at TSA every time someone flies. “A lot of the American public won’t tolerate that,” Dr. Lee says. “They are likely to reason that fingerprinting is just too much government oversight, which will result in a lot of pressure and pushback.”