Tactical infrastructure such as fencing, roads, and lights are essential to securing a nation’s border. However it alone is not enough to prevent the unlawful movement of people and contraband in to a country.
“Technology is definitely the primary driver of land, maritime, and air domain awareness – this may become only more apparent as [U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)] faces future threats,” according to testimony from CBP officials at a Senate hearing on homeland security in 2015.
And machine vision’s fingerprints are common over that technology. “The data taken 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.
In the U.S.-Mexico border in the state of Arizona, for example, Top Machine Vision Inspection System Manufacturer persistently detect and track so-called “items 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 at 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, analysis of the generated data – that meet government agencies’ objectives of flexibility, cost effectiveness, and easy deployment in border security applications.
Managing Diverse Conditions – The perennial downside to vision systems utilized in border surveillance applications is handling the diversity of the outdoor environment using its fluctuating lighting and weather conditions, as well as varied terrain. Inspite of the challenges, “you will find places in which 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 over the southern border from the U.S. for illegal passengers.
“Those trains have to go within a trellis, which can be equipped with the correct sensors and lighting to help inspect the trains,” Dr. Lee says. Government agencies tasked with border security use infrared cameras to detect targets during the night as well as in other low-light conditions, but thermal imaging has its limits, too. “Infrared cameras work really well whenever you can use 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 same part of the spectrum. So customers rely on other regions in the spectrum like shortwave infrared (SWIR) to try to catch the difference.”
Infrared imaging works well in monitoring motorized watercraft since the boat’s engine includes 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 however , the oceans present an enormous level of area to cover. Says Dr. Lee, “To view everything is a compromise between having a whole bunch of systems monitoring this type of water or systems which can be loaded with the sky, in which case you will find the problem of seeing something really tiny in a huge overall view.”
CMOS Surpasses CCD – One key change in imaging systems found in border surveillance applications is definitely the shift from CCD to CMOS sensors as the latter is surpassing the quality and satisfaction in the former. To accommodate this change, two years ago Adimec Advanced Image Systems bv (Eindhoven, holland) integrated the most recent generation of CMOS image sensors – that 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 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. 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. As an example, an EMCCD needs to be cooled in order to provide the most effective performance. “Which is quite some challenge within the sensation of integrating power consumption and in addition the fact that you have to provide high voltage for the sensors,” van Rooijen says. “And if you need to have systems operating to get a long duration without maintenance, an EMCCD is not the most effective solution.”
To fix these challenges, Adimec is focusing on image processing “to obtain the best from the latest generation CMOS in the future even closer to the performance global security customers are utilized to with EMCCD without all the downsides from the cost, integration, and reliability,” van Rooijen says.
Adimec is also tackling the process of mitigating the turbulence that occurs with border surveillance systems over very long ranges, particularly as systems that have been using analog video are actually taking steps toward higher resolution imaging to cover the greater areas.
“When imaging at long range, you may have atmospheric turbulence from the heat rising through the ground, and on sea level, rising or evaporated water creates problems regarding the haze,” van Rooijen says. “We are going to show turbulence mitigation in the low-latency hardware embedded in our platform and will work with system integrators to optimize it for land and sea applications since they possess the biggest difficulties with turbulence.”
Greater Than Pictures – Like machine vision systems deployed in industrial applications, border security systems generate lots of data that needs analysis. “The surveillance industry traditionally is a little slower to incorporate analytics,” says Dr. Lee of Pyramid Imaging. “We have seen significant opportunity there and have been utilizing some of our customers so that analytics are more automated with regards to what is being detected and also to analyze that intrusion, then have the capacity to have 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 that this object is unattended nefqnm everything around it continues to move.
Even with robust vision-based surveillance capabilities in any way points of entry, U.S. border patrol and homeland security have to contend with a significantly bigger threat. “America does an excellent job checking people arriving, but perform a really poor job knowing if they ever leave,” Dr. Lee says. “We know the best way to solve that problem using technology, but that produces their own problems.
“The best place to get this done are at the Automated Vision Inspection Machines within the TSA line, that you can use a mechanism to record everybody,” Dr. Lee continues. “But that will be expensive because you have to do this at each airport in america. Monitoring and recording slows things down, and TSA is under lots of pressure to speed things up.” Another surveillance option that government agencies have discussed is taking noncontact fingerprints at TSA each time someone flies. “Most of the American public won’t tolerate that,” Dr. Lee says. “They will argue that fingerprinting is simply too much government oversight, and will result in a great deal of pressure and pushback.”