Tactical infrastructure such as fencing, roads, and lighting is important to securing a nation’s border. But it alone is not enough to stop the unlawful movement of people and contraband in to a country.
“Technology is the primary driver of all the land, maritime, and air domain awareness – this will become only more apparent as [U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)] faces future threats,” in accordance with testimony from CBP officials with a Senate hearing on homeland security in 2015.
And machine vision’s fingerprints are all 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 reply to threats within the nation’s border regions,” the testimony states.
In the U.S.-Mexico border in the state of Arizona, as an example, Top Machine Vision Inspection System Manufacturer persistently detect and track so-called “pieces 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 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 frequently, research into the generated data – that meet government agencies’ objectives of flexibility, cost effectiveness, and easy deployment in border security applications.
Managing Diverse Conditions – The perennial problem with vision systems used in border surveillance applications is managing the diversity of an outdoor environment with its fluctuating lighting and weather conditions, as well as varied terrain. Regardless of the challenges, “you can find places where you can implement controls to improve 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 along the southern border in the U.S. for illegal passengers.
“Those trains have to go within a trellis, which can be equipped with the appropriate 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 nighttime 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 when you’re trying 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 same part 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 the problem is that the oceans present a huge amount of area to protect. Says Dr. Lee, “To view all of it is really a compromise between having a lot of systems monitoring the water or systems which are rich in the sky, where case you 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 is definitely the shift from CCD to CMOS sensors since the latter is surpassing the standard and gratification from the former. To support this change, a couple of years ago Adimec Advanced Image Systems bv (Eindhoven, the Netherlands) integrated the newest 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 example, an EMCCD has to be cooled in order to provide the very best performance. “That is certainly quite some challenge in the sensation of integrating power consumption and also the fact that 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 is not really the most effective solution.”
To fix 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 utilized to with EMCCD without all the downsides in the cost, integration, and reliability,” van Rooijen says.
Adimec is also tackling the task of mitigating the turbulence that occurs 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 might have atmospheric turbulence by 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 within the low-latency hardware a part of our platform and will work with system integrators to optimize it for land and sea applications because they hold the biggest difficulties with turbulence.”
Greater Than Pictures – Like machine vision systems deployed in industrial applications, border home security systems generate plenty of data that requires analysis. “The surveillance industry traditionally is a little slower to incorporate analytics,” says Dr. Lee of Pyramid Imaging. “We see significant opportunity there and possess been working with a lot of our customers in order that analytics are definitely more automated when it comes to what is being detected and to analyze that intrusion, and after that be able to require a proper response.”
Some companies have developed software that identifies anomalies in persistent monitoring. For instance, in case a passenger at the airport suddenly abandons a suitcase, the software will detect that this object is unattended nefqnm everything 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 significantly bigger threat. “The United States does an excellent job checking people coming in, but perform a very poor job knowing if 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 achieve this is at the Automated Vision Inspection Machines within the TSA line, in which you can use a mechanism to record everybody,” Dr. Lee continues. “But that will be expensive because you should do this at every 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 takes noncontact fingerprints at TSA each and every 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 lot of pressure and pushback.”