Tactical infrastructure like fencing, roads, and lighting is critical to securing a nation’s border. But it alone is not enough to prevent the unlawful movement of people and contraband in to a country.
“Technology is the primary driver of land, maritime, and air domain awareness – this can become only more apparent as [U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)] faces future threats,” in accordance with 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 extracted from fixed and mobile surveillance systems, ground sensors, imaging systems, and other advanced technologies enhances situational awareness and much better enables CBP to detect, identify, monitor, and appropriately respond to threats inside the nation’s border regions,” the testimony states.
On the U.S.-Mexico border within the state of Arizona, as an example, Top Machine Vision Inspection System Manufacturer persistently detect and track so-called “pieces of interest.” Created 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 the 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 simple deployment in border security applications.
Managing Diverse Conditions – The perennial trouble with vision systems used in border surveillance applications is handling the diversity of your outdoor environment using its fluctuating lighting and climatic conditions, as well as varied terrain. Inspite of the challenges, “there are places where you can implement controls to enhance 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 over the southern border from the U.S. for illegal passengers.
“Those trains need to go within trellis, which can be designed with the correct sensors and lighting to help inspect the trains,” Dr. Lee says. Government agencies given the job of border security use infrared cameras to detect targets at night as well as in other low-light conditions, but thermal imaging has its own 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 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 depend on other regions from the spectrum such as shortwave infrared (SWIR) to attempt to catch the difference.”
Infrared imaging works well in monitoring motorized watercraft since the boat’s engine features 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 the problem is that the oceans present a vast amount of area to protect. Says Dr. Lee, “To view all of it is a compromise between having a whole bunch of systems monitoring this type of water or systems which are rich in the sky, in which case you will find the problem of seeing something really tiny in a very large overall view.”
CMOS Surpasses CCD – One key change in imaging systems found in border surveillance applications is the shift from CCD to CMOS sensors because the latter is surpassing the standard and performance 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 – that 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 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 an alternative 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 has to be cooled in order to offer the most effective performance. “That is certainly quite some challenge inside the sensation of integrating power consumption and in addition because you have to provide high voltage towards the sensors,” van Rooijen says. “And if you wish to have systems operating for any long duration without maintenance, an EMCCD is not really the best solution.”
To solve these challenges, Adimec is working on image processing “to obtain the best from the latest generation CMOS to come even 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 is also tackling the task of mitigating the turbulence that develops 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 bigger areas.
“When imaging at long range, you have atmospheric turbulence through the heat rising from the ground, as well as on sea level, rising or evaporated water creates problems regarding the haze,” van Rooijen says. “We will show turbulence mitigation inside the low-latency hardware a part of our platform and can work with system integrators to optimize it for land and sea applications because they possess the biggest issues with turbulence.”
More Than Pictures – Like machine vision systems deployed in industrial applications, border security systems generate lots of data that requires analysis. “The surveillance industry traditionally is a little slower to include analytics,” says Dr. Lee of Pyramid Imaging. “We percieve significant opportunity there and possess been working with a lot of our customers so that analytics tend to be more automated when it comes to precisely what is being detected and to analyze that intrusion, and then be able to take 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 application will detect that the object is unattended nefqnm everything around it consistently move.
Even with robust vision-based surveillance capabilities in any way points of entry, U.S. border patrol and homeland security need to cope with a much bigger threat. “The Usa does a very good job checking people coming in, but we all do an extremely poor job knowing if they ever leave,” Dr. Lee says. “We know how to solve that problem using technology, but that creates its very own problems.
“The best place to get this done is at the Automated Vision Inspection Machines within the TSA line, where you can possess a mechanism to record everybody,” Dr. Lee continues. “But that is going to 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 lots of pressure to speed things up.” Another surveillance option that government agencies 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 going to debate that fingerprinting is too much government oversight, and that will result in a lot of pressure and pushback.”