Tactical infrastructure like fencing, roads, and lighting is essential to securing a nation’s border. However it alone is not enough to avoid the unlawful movement of men and women and contraband into a country.
“Technology is definitely the primary driver of all the land, maritime, and air domain awareness – this may become only more apparent as [U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)] faces future threats,” based on testimony from CBP officials in a Senate hearing on homeland security in 2015.
And machine vision’s fingerprints are over that technology. “The information taken 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 react to threats inside the nation’s border regions,” the testimony states.
In the U.S.-Mexico border within the state of Arizona, as an example, Top Machine Vision Inspection System Manufacturer persistently detect and track so-called “items of interest.” Created 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 all 3 fronts of land, maritime, and aerial surveillance, machine vision companies are providing imaging systems – and, more regularly, research into 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 downside to vision systems found in border surveillance applications is handling the diversity of the outdoor environment using its fluctuating lighting and weather conditions, as well as varied terrain. Despite the challenges, “you will find places in which you can implement controls to boost upon the intelligence from the system,” says Dr. Rex Lee, president and CEO of Pyramid Imaging (Tampa, Florida). He points to customers who monitor trains along the southern border from the U.S. for illegal passengers.
“Those trains have to go within a trellis, which can be equipped with the proper sensors and lighting to help inspect the trains,” Dr. Lee says. Government departments tasked with border security use infrared cameras to detect targets at nighttime and in other low-light conditions, but thermal imaging has its limits, too. “Infrared cameras work really well when you can use them in high-contrast conditions,” Dr. Lee says. “However, if you’re seeking to pick up a human at 98.6°F over a desert floor which is 100°F, the desert is emitting radiation at nearly the identical area of the spectrum. So customers rely on other areas of the spectrum including shortwave infrared (SWIR) to try and catch the main difference.”
Infrared imaging works well in monitoring motorized watercraft considering that 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 and see anomalies,” Dr. Lee says.
But the problem is that the oceans present a vast amount of area to pay for. Says Dr. Lee, “To find out everything is actually a compromise between having a whole bunch of systems monitoring this type of water or systems which can be loaded with the sky, by which case you will have the problem of seeing something really tiny in a large overall view.”
CMOS Surpasses CCD – One key change in imaging systems used in border surveillance applications will be the shift from CCD to CMOS sensors since the latter is surpassing the standard and satisfaction of the former. To allow for this change, 2 yrs ago Adimec Advanced Image Systems bv (Eindhoven, the Netherlands) integrated the most recent 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 an alternative 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. For example, an EMCCD has to be cooled in order to offer the very best performance. “That is quite some challenge in the sense of integrating power consumption and in addition because you must provide high voltage towards the sensors,” van Rooijen says. “And if you need to have systems operating for any long duration without maintenance, an EMCCD will not be the most effective solution.”
To fix these challenges, Adimec is working on image processing “to get the most out of the most recent generation CMOS to come closer to the performance global security customers are utilized to with EMCCD without all of the downsides in the cost, integration, and reliability,” van Rooijen says.
Adimec also is tackling the challenge of mitigating the turbulence that occurs with border surveillance systems over very long ranges, particularly as systems that were using analog video are now taking steps toward higher resolution imaging to protect the bigger areas.
“When imaging at long range, you may have atmospheric turbulence from the heat rising through the ground, as well as 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 definately will work with system integrators to optimize it for land and sea applications simply because 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 is a little slower to incorporate analytics,” says Dr. Lee of Pyramid Imaging. “We have seen significant opportunity there and possess been dealing with some of our customers to ensure that analytics are more automated in terms of precisely what is being detected and also to analyze that intrusion, and after that have the capacity to take a proper response.”
Some companies have developed software that identifies anomalies in persistent monitoring. As an example, in case a passenger on the airport suddenly abandons a suitcase, the application will detect the object is unattended nefqnm anything else around it consistently move.
Even with robust vision-based surveillance capabilities whatsoever points of entry, U.S. border patrol and homeland security have to cope with a lot bigger threat. “The Usa does an excellent job checking people to arrive, but we do an extremely poor job knowing if they ever leave,” Dr. Lee says. “We know the best way to solve that problem using technology, but that creates their own problems.
“The right place to get this done are at the Automated Vision Inspection Machines in the TSA line, that you can have a mechanism to record everybody,” Dr. Lee continues. “But that is going to be expensive because you have to do this at each airport in the usa. Monitoring and recording slows things down, and TSA is under lots of pressure to speed things up.” Another surveillance option that government departments have discussed takes noncontact fingerprints at TSA each time someone flies. “A lot of the American public won’t tolerate that,” Dr. Lee says. “They are going to argue that fingerprinting is just too much government oversight, which will result in a lot of pressure and pushback.”