Tactical infrastructure such as fencing, roads, and lights are essential to securing a nation’s border. But it alone is not enough to stop the unlawful movement of men and women and contraband in to 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,” in accordance with 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, as well as other advanced technologies enhances situational awareness and better enables CBP to detect, identify, monitor, and appropriately respond to threats within the nation’s border regions,” the testimony states.
In the U.S.-Mexico border in the state of Arizona, for instance, Top Machine Vision Inspection System Manufacturer persistently detect and track so-called “pieces of interest.” Designed 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 in 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 often, analysis of the generated data – that meet government agencies’ objectives of flexibility, cost effectiveness, and simple deployment in border security applications.
Managing Diverse Conditions – The perennial trouble with vision systems utilized in border surveillance applications is managing the diversity of your outdoor environment with 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 along the southern border of the U.S. for illegal passengers.
“Those trains will need to go within a trellis, which can be equipped with the proper sensors and lighting to assist inspect the trains,” Dr. Lee says. Government agencies 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 own limits, too. “Infrared cameras work really well once you can utilize them in high-contrast conditions,” Dr. Lee says. “But if you’re attempting to pick up a human at 98.6°F over a desert floor that is certainly 100°F, the desert is emitting radiation at nearly the identical area of the spectrum. So customers rely on other areas 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 features 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 the problem is that the oceans present a vast level of area to pay for. Says Dr. Lee, “To see all of it is a compromise between having a whole bunch of systems monitoring the water or systems that are rich in the sky, where case you have the problem of seeing something really tiny in a large overall view.”
CMOS Surpasses CCD – One key change in imaging systems found in border surveillance applications will be the shift from CCD to CMOS sensors since the latter is surpassing the product quality and gratification in the former. To accommodate 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 combination of rugged commercial off-the-shelf cameras for top-end security applications. TMX cameras keep 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 instance, an EMCCD has to be cooled in order to offer the best performance. “That is quite some challenge in the feeling of integrating power consumption and also 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 solve these challenges, Adimec is working on image processing “to get the best from the newest generation CMOS ahead closer 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 also is tackling the challenge 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 pay for the larger areas.
“When imaging at long range, you might have atmospheric turbulence by 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 definately will work with system integrators to optimize it for land and sea applications simply because they have the biggest issues with turbulence.”
Greater Than Pictures – Like machine vision systems deployed in industrial applications, border home security systems generate lots of data that requires analysis. “The surveillance industry traditionally has been a little slower to include analytics,” says Dr. Lee of Pyramid Imaging. “We have seen significant opportunity there and have been dealing with a lot of our customers to ensure that analytics are definitely more automated in terms of what exactly is being detected and also to analyze that intrusion, then have the ability to require a proper response.”
Some companies have developed software that identifies anomalies in persistent monitoring. For example, if a passenger at the airport suddenly abandons a suitcase, the program 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 need to cope with a lot bigger threat. “America does an excellent job checking people arriving, but we all do a really poor job knowing should they ever leave,” Dr. Lee says. “We know how you can solve that problem using technology, but that can cause its very own problems.
“A good place to get this done reaches the Automated Vision Inspection Machines inside the TSA line, where you can use a mechanism to record everybody,” Dr. Lee continues. “But that is going to be expensive because you should do this at each airport in the usa. Monitoring and recording slows things down, and TSA is under plenty of pressure to speed things up.” Another surveillance option that government departments have discussed is taking noncontact fingerprints at TSA every time someone flies. “Much of the American public won’t tolerate that,” Dr. Lee says. “They are going to debate that fingerprinting is simply too much government oversight, and that will result in a large amount of pressure and pushback.”