Tactical infrastructure like fencing, roads, and lights are important to securing a nation’s border. However it alone is not enough to stop the unlawful movement of men and women and contraband in to a country.
“Technology will be the primary driver of all the land, maritime, and air domain awareness – this can become only more apparent as [U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)] faces future threats,” according to testimony from CBP officials in 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, as well as other advanced technologies enhances situational awareness and much better enables CBP to detect, identify, monitor, and appropriately reply to threats within the nation’s border regions,” the testimony states.
On the U.S.-Mexico border in the state of Arizona, for example, Top Machine Vision Inspection System Manufacturer persistently detect and track so-called “pieces of interest.” Built 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 all 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, as well as simple deployment in border security applications.
Managing Diverse Conditions – The perennial trouble with 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. Regardless of the challenges, “there are places in which you can implement controls to improve 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 across the southern border in the U.S. for illegal passengers.
“Those trains have to go within trellis, which can be designed with the proper sensors and lighting to assist inspect the trains,” Dr. Lee says. Government departments tasked with border security use infrared cameras to detect targets during the night 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 portion of the spectrum. So customers rely on other areas from the spectrum like shortwave infrared (SWIR) to try and catch the real difference.”
Infrared imaging works well in monitoring motorized watercraft considering that the boat’s engine includes a thermal signature. “What’s nice about water is that it’s relatively uniform and it’s very easy to ‘wash out’ that background see anomalies,” Dr. Lee says.
But however , the oceans present an enormous level of area to pay for. Says Dr. Lee, “To find out all of it is a compromise between having a whole bunch of systems monitoring water or systems which are high in the sky, where case you will find 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 is definitely the shift from CCD to CMOS sensors since the latter is surpassing the product quality and performance of the former. To allow for this change, a couple of 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 series 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. For instance, an EMCCD needs to be cooled in order to deliver the best performance. “That is certainly quite some challenge within the sensation of integrating power consumption and in addition because you need to provide high voltage towards the sensors,” van Rooijen says. “And if you wish to have systems operating to get a long duration without maintenance, an EMCCD is not the best solution.”
To fix these challenges, Adimec is focusing on image processing “to obtain the most from the newest generation CMOS ahead closer to the performance global security customers are used to with EMCCD without all 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 which were using analog video are now taking steps toward higher resolution imaging to protect the larger areas.
“When imaging at long range, you have atmospheric turbulence through the heat rising from your ground, and on sea level, rising or evaporated water creates problems with regards to the haze,” van Rooijen says. “We will 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 because they hold the biggest difficulties with turbulence.”
More 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 also have been dealing with a lot of our customers in order that analytics are definitely more automated in terms of what is being detected as well as analyze that intrusion, then be able to require 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 program will detect the object is unattended nefqnm everything else around it will continue to move.
Even with robust vision-based surveillance capabilities whatsoever points of entry, U.S. border patrol and homeland security need to deal with a lot bigger threat. “America does an excellent job checking people coming in, but we all do a very poor job knowing should they ever leave,” Dr. Lee says. “We know how you can solve that problem using technology, but that produces its own problems.
“The right place to do this is at the Automated Vision Inspection Machines within 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 and 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 departments have discussed has taken noncontact fingerprints at TSA each time someone flies. “Much of the American public won’t tolerate that,” Dr. Lee says. “They are likely to debate that fingerprinting is just too much government oversight, and will result in a large amount of pressure and pushback.”