Tactical infrastructure such as fencing, roads, and lighting is critical to securing a nation’s border. But it alone is not enough to prevent the unlawful movement of men and women and contraband into a country.
“Technology will be the primary driver of land, maritime, and air domain awareness – this will 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 all 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 react to threats inside 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.” 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 on 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 downside to vision systems used in border surveillance applications is handling the diversity of an outdoor environment using its fluctuating lighting and climatic conditions, as well as varied terrain. Inspite of the challenges, “you can find places that you can implement controls to enhance upon the intelligence of 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 assist inspect the trains,” Dr. Lee says. Government agencies tasked with border security use infrared cameras to detect targets at nighttime and then in other low-light conditions, but thermal imaging does have its limits, too. “Infrared cameras work really well when you can make use of them in high-contrast conditions,” Dr. Lee says. “But when you’re seeking to pick up a human at 98.6°F over a desert floor that is 100°F, the desert is emitting radiation at nearly the identical area of the spectrum. So customers rely on other parts from the spectrum such as shortwave infrared (SWIR) to try and catch the main difference.”
Infrared imaging works well in monitoring motorized watercraft since the boat’s engine includes a thermal signature. “What’s nice about water is that it’s relatively uniform and it’s simple to ‘wash out’ that background see anomalies,” Dr. Lee says.
But however , the oceans present a huge amount of area to protect. Says Dr. Lee, “To see everything is really a compromise between having a whole bunch of systems monitoring this type of water or systems that are rich in the sky, where case you 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 because the latter is surpassing the standard and gratification in the former. To allow for this change, two years ago Adimec Advanced Image Systems bv (Eindhoven, the Netherlands) integrated the latest generation of CMOS image sensors – which offer 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 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 substitute 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 most effective performance. “That is quite some challenge within the feeling of integrating power consumption as well as because you have to provide high voltage for the sensors,” van Rooijen says. “And if you want to have systems operating to get a long duration without maintenance, an EMCCD is not the most effective solution.”
To resolve these challenges, Adimec is working on image processing “to get the most out of the latest generation CMOS ahead even closer to the performance global security customers are used to with EMCCD without each of the downsides of 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 that were using analog video are now taking steps toward higher resolution imaging to protect the greater areas.
“When imaging at long range, you might have atmospheric turbulence from the heat rising from your ground, as well as on sea level, rising or evaporated water creates problems in terms of the haze,” van Rooijen says. “We will show turbulence mitigation in the low-latency hardware baked into our platform and can work with system integrators to optimize it for land and sea applications because they possess the biggest problems with turbulence.”
More 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 become a little slower to add analytics,” says Dr. Lee of Pyramid Imaging. “We see significant opportunity there and have been utilizing some of our customers so that analytics are definitely more automated with regards to precisely what is being detected and to analyze that intrusion, then have the capacity to take a proper response.”
Some companies have developed software that identifies anomalies in persistent monitoring. For instance, if a passenger in the airport suddenly abandons a suitcase, the software will detect that this 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 need to deal with a much bigger threat. “The Usa does a very good job checking people coming in, but we do a really 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 do this is at the Automated Vision Inspection Machines in the TSA line, where you can use a mechanism to record everybody,” Dr. Lee continues. “But that will be expensive because you have to do this at each and every airport in america. Monitoring and recording slows things down, and TSA is under a lot of pressure to speed things up.” Another surveillance option that government agencies have discussed has taken noncontact fingerprints at TSA each and every time someone flies. “A lot of the American public won’t tolerate that,” Dr. Lee says. “They will debate that fingerprinting is simply too much government oversight, and will result in a large amount of pressure and pushback.”