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 will be 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 at a Senate hearing on homeland security in 2015.
And machine vision’s fingerprints are over that technology. “The details obtained from fixed and mobile surveillance systems, ground sensors, imaging systems, along with other advanced technologies enhances situational awareness and enables CBP to detect, identify, monitor, and appropriately respond to threats in the nation’s border regions,” the testimony states.
At the U.S.-Mexico border inside the state of Arizona, for instance, Top Machine Vision Inspection System Manufacturer persistently detect and track so-called “items of interest.” Created to withstand its harsh desert surroundings, IFT comes with radar, commercial off-the-shelf daylight cameras and thermal imaging sensors, and microwave transmitters that send data to border agents on the Nogales station for analysis and decision-making.
On all three fronts of land, maritime, and aerial surveillance, machine vision companies are providing imaging systems – and, more frequently, analysis of the generated data – that meet government agencies’ objectives of flexibility, cost effectiveness, and easy deployment in border security applications.
Managing Diverse Conditions – The perennial downside to vision systems utilized in border surveillance applications is handling the diversity of the outdoor environment using its fluctuating lighting and climate conditions, as well as varied terrain. Inspite of the challenges, “you can find 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 in the U.S. for illegal passengers.
“Those trains have to go under a trellis, which can be designed with the correct sensors and lighting to help inspect the trains,” Dr. Lee says. Government agencies tasked with border security use infrared cameras to detect targets at night and then in other low-light conditions, but thermal imaging has its own limits, too. “Infrared cameras work really well whenever you can utilize them in high-contrast conditions,” Dr. Lee says. “But if you’re trying to pick up a human at 98.6°F over a desert floor which is 100°F, the desert is emitting radiation at nearly exactly the same part of the spectrum. So customers rely on other regions in the spectrum including shortwave infrared (SWIR) to attempt to catch the main difference.”
Infrared imaging works well in monitoring motorized watercraft considering that the boat’s engine has a thermal signature. “What’s nice about water is the fact it’s relatively uniform and it’s easy to ‘wash out’ that background see anomalies,” Dr. Lee says.
But however , the oceans present a vast level of area to protect. Says Dr. Lee, “To see everything is a compromise between having a whole bunch of systems monitoring this type of water or systems that are high in the sky, where case you will have the problem of seeing something really tiny in a very 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 as the latter is surpassing the quality and satisfaction in the former. To support this change, two years ago Adimec Advanced Image Systems bv (Eindhoven, holland) integrated the most recent generation of CMOS image sensors – that provide significant improvements in image quality and sensitivity – into its TMX number of rugged commercial off-the-shelf cameras for high-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 most effective performance. “That is quite some challenge inside the feeling of integrating power consumption and also the fact that you need to provide high voltage to the sensors,” van Rooijen says. “And if you need to have systems operating for any long duration without maintenance, an EMCCD is not the best solution.”
To solve these challenges, Adimec is working on image processing “to get the most from the most recent generation CMOS to come closer to the performance global security customers are employed to with EMCCD without all the downsides from the cost, integration, and reliability,” van Rooijen says.
Adimec is also tackling the process of mitigating the turbulence that develops with border surveillance systems over very long ranges, particularly as systems that have been using analog video are now taking steps toward higher resolution imaging to protect the bigger areas.
“When imaging at long range, you have atmospheric turbulence from the heat rising from your ground, and on sea level, rising or evaporated water creates problems in terms of the haze,” van Rooijen says. “We shall show turbulence mitigation in the low-latency hardware embedded in our platform and will work with system integrators to optimize it for land and sea applications simply because they possess the biggest difficulties with turbulence.”
A Lot More Than Pictures – Like machine vision systems deployed in industrial applications, border home security systems generate a lot of data that needs analysis. “The surveillance industry traditionally has been a little slower to include analytics,” says Dr. Lee of Pyramid Imaging. “We see significant opportunity there and have been utilizing a lot of our customers to ensure that analytics are more automated when it comes to what is being detected and also to analyze that intrusion, and then have the ability 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 software will detect that this object is unattended nefqnm everything around it continues to move.
Even with robust vision-based surveillance capabilities at all points of entry, U.S. border patrol and homeland security have to cope with a significantly bigger threat. “America does a pretty good job checking people to arrive, but we do a very poor job knowing when they ever leave,” Dr. Lee says. “We know how you can solve that problem using technology, but that creates its very own problems.
“The right place to achieve this reaches the Automated Vision Inspection Machines in the TSA line, that you can have a mechanism to record everybody,” Dr. Lee continues. “But that will be expensive because you have to do this at every 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 agencies have discussed takes noncontact fingerprints at TSA every 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.”