Tactical infrastructure like fencing, roads, and lighting is critical to securing a nation’s border. But it alone is not enough to avoid the unlawful movement of people 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,” in accordance with testimony from CBP officials at a Senate hearing on homeland security in 2015.
And machine vision’s fingerprints are over that technology. “The details extracted from fixed and mobile surveillance systems, ground sensors, imaging systems, as well as other advanced technologies enhances situational awareness and better enables CBP to detect, identify, monitor, and appropriately react to threats inside the nation’s border regions,” the testimony states.
On the U.S.-Mexico border in 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 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 frequently, research into the generated data – that meet government agencies’ objectives of flexibility, cost effectiveness, and simple deployment in border security applications.
Managing Diverse Conditions – The perennial problem with vision systems used in border surveillance applications is handling the diversity of the outdoor environment using its fluctuating lighting and climatic conditions, as well as varied terrain. Inspite of the challenges, “you can 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 across the southern border in the U.S. for illegal passengers.
“Those trains have to go under a trellis, which can be built with the proper sensors and lighting to assist inspect the trains,” Dr. Lee says. Government departments given the job of border security use infrared cameras to detect targets at night and in other low-light conditions, but thermal imaging has its limits, too. “Infrared cameras work really well whenever you can utilize them in high-contrast conditions,” Dr. Lee says. “However, if you’re trying to pick up a human at 98.6°F on a desert floor which is 100°F, the desert is emitting radiation at nearly the identical portion of the spectrum. So customers count on other regions of the spectrum like shortwave infrared (SWIR) to attempt to catch the difference.”
Infrared imaging works well in monitoring motorized watercraft since the boat’s engine has 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 the problem is that the oceans present a huge level of area to pay for. Says Dr. Lee, “To see all of it is actually a compromise between having a lot of systems monitoring this type of water or systems that are rich in the sky, by which case you will have the problem of seeing something really tiny in a huge overall view.”
CMOS Surpasses CCD – One key change in imaging systems utilized in border surveillance applications will be the shift from CCD to CMOS sensors because the latter is surpassing the quality and satisfaction in the former. To allow for this change, a couple of years 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 series of rugged commercial off-the-shelf cameras for top-end security applications. TMX cameras have 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 replacement for electron-multiplying CCDs (EMCCDs), says Leon van Rooijen, Business Line Director Global Security at Adimec. Due to 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 instance, an EMCCD must be cooled in order to provide the best performance. “That is certainly quite some challenge inside the feeling of integrating power consumption and in addition because you need to provide high voltage for the sensors,” van Rooijen says. “And if you wish to have systems operating for a long duration without maintenance, an EMCCD will not be the very best solution.”
To resolve these challenges, Adimec is working on image processing “to obtain the most from the most recent generation CMOS to come nearer to the performance global security customers are used to with EMCCD without all of the downsides of the cost, integration, and reliability,” van Rooijen says.
Adimec is also tackling the task of mitigating the turbulence that takes place with border surveillance systems over very long ranges, particularly as systems that have been using analog video are taking steps toward higher resolution imaging to protect the larger 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 inside 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 hold the biggest issues with turbulence.”
Greater Than Pictures – Like machine vision systems deployed in industrial applications, border security systems generate plenty of data that will require analysis. “The surveillance industry traditionally is a little slower to incorporate analytics,” says Dr. Lee of Pyramid Imaging. “We percieve 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 as well as analyze that intrusion, and then be able to require a proper response.”
Some companies have developed software that identifies anomalies in persistent monitoring. For instance, if a passenger at the airport suddenly abandons a suitcase, the application will detect that the object is unattended nefqnm anything else around it will continue to move.
Even with robust vision-based surveillance capabilities at all points of entry, U.S. border patrol and homeland security must cope with a significantly bigger threat. “America does an excellent job checking people coming in, but perform a very poor job knowing if they ever leave,” Dr. Lee says. “We know the best way to solve that problem using technology, but that can cause their own problems.
“The best place to achieve this reaches the Automated Vision Inspection Machines inside the TSA line, that you can have a mechanism to record everybody,” Dr. Lee continues. “But that will be expensive because you should do this at each 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 departments have discussed is taking noncontact fingerprints at TSA each and every time someone flies. “Most of the American public won’t tolerate that,” Dr. Lee says. “They are likely to debate that fingerprinting is just too much government oversight, which will result in a lot of pressure and pushback.”