Tactical infrastructure such as fencing, roads, and lighting is critical to securing a nation’s border. However it alone is not enough to prevent the unlawful movement of men and women and contraband into a country.
“Technology will be the primary driver of all land, maritime, and air domain awareness – this will become only more apparent as [U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)] faces future threats,” according to testimony from CBP officials with a Senate hearing on homeland security in 2015.
And machine vision’s fingerprints are all 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 much better enables CBP to detect, identify, monitor, and appropriately react to threats in the nation’s border regions,” the testimony states.
In the U.S.-Mexico border inside the state of Arizona, for instance, Top Machine Vision Inspection System Manufacturer persistently detect and track so-called “items 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 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, research into 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 with its fluctuating lighting and weather conditions, as well as varied terrain. Regardless of the challenges, “you will find places where you can implement controls to boost 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 help inspect the trains,” Dr. Lee says. Government agencies given the job of 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 make use of them in high-contrast conditions,” Dr. Lee says. “However, if you’re trying to pick up a human at 98.6°F on a desert floor that is certainly 100°F, the desert is emitting radiation at nearly the same portion of the spectrum. So customers depend on other parts in the spectrum such as shortwave infrared (SWIR) to try to 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 an enormous level of area to cover. Says Dr. Lee, “To see all of it is a compromise between having a whole bunch of systems monitoring this type of water or systems which can be rich in the sky, by which case you will have the problem of seeing something really tiny in a large overall view.”
CMOS Surpasses CCD – One key change in imaging systems utilized in border surveillance applications will be the shift from CCD to CMOS sensors since the latter is surpassing the quality and gratification from the former. To support this change, two 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. As an example, an EMCCD has to be cooled in order to offer the most effective performance. “That is certainly quite some challenge in the sensation of integrating power consumption and also the fact that you must provide high voltage to 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 very best solution.”
To fix these challenges, Adimec is concentrating on image processing “to get the most out of the most recent generation CMOS ahead nearer to the performance global security customers are utilized to with EMCCD without each of the downsides of the cost, integration, and reliability,” van Rooijen says.
Adimec is also tackling the challenge of mitigating the turbulence that takes place with border surveillance systems over very long ranges, particularly as systems that were using analog video are actually taking steps toward higher resolution imaging to cover the larger areas.
“When imaging at long range, you might have atmospheric turbulence by the heat rising through the ground, and on sea level, rising or evaporated water creates problems in terms of the haze,” van Rooijen says. “We shall show turbulence mitigation within the low-latency hardware a part of our platform and can work with system integrators to optimize it for land and sea applications simply because they hold the biggest issues with turbulence.”
A Lot More Than Pictures – Like machine vision systems deployed in industrial applications, border security systems generate a lot of data that requires analysis. “The surveillance industry traditionally has become a little slower to incorporate analytics,” says Dr. Lee of Pyramid Imaging. “We have seen significant opportunity there and also have been dealing with some of our customers so that analytics are definitely more automated when it comes to what exactly is being detected and also to analyze that intrusion, and after that have the capacity to require a proper response.”
Some companies have developed software that identifies anomalies in persistent monitoring. For instance, if a passenger on the airport suddenly abandons a suitcase, the software will detect the object is unattended nefqnm everything around it consistently move.
Even with robust vision-based surveillance capabilities at all points of entry, U.S. border patrol and homeland security need to contend with a lot bigger threat. “America does a very good 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 produces its own problems.
“The right place to do this reaches the Automated Vision Inspection Machines in the TSA line, that you can use a mechanism to record everybody,” Dr. Lee continues. “But that will be expensive because you need 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 departments have discussed has taken noncontact fingerprints at TSA every time someone flies. “Much of the American public won’t tolerate that,” Dr. Lee says. “They are likely to argue that fingerprinting is too much government oversight, and will result in a large amount of pressure and pushback.”