Tactical infrastructure such as fencing, roads, and lighting is essential to securing a nation’s border. However it alone is not enough to stop the unlawful movement of individuals and contraband in to a country.
“Technology is 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,” 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 information 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 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 “items of interest.” Created 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 three fronts of land, maritime, and aerial surveillance, machine vision companies are providing imaging systems – and, more regularly, analysis of the generated data – that meet government agencies’ objectives of flexibility, cost effectiveness, as well as simple deployment in border security applications.
Managing Diverse Conditions – The perennial problem with vision systems utilized in border surveillance applications is handling the diversity of your outdoor environment using its fluctuating lighting and climatic conditions, as well as varied terrain. Despite the challenges, “there are places that you can implement controls to boost 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 across the southern border in the U.S. for illegal passengers.
“Those trains have to go within trellis, which can be equipped with the correct sensors and lighting to aid inspect the trains,” Dr. Lee says. Government departments given the job of border security use infrared cameras to detect targets during the night as well as in other low-light conditions, but thermal imaging has its own limits, too. “Infrared cameras work really well once you can use them in high-contrast conditions,” Dr. Lee says. “But if you’re seeking to pick up a human at 98.6°F on the desert floor that is 100°F, the desert is emitting radiation at nearly the same part of the spectrum. So customers depend on other areas of the spectrum such as shortwave infrared (SWIR) to try to catch the real difference.”
Infrared imaging works well in monitoring motorized watercraft because the boat’s engine has a thermal signature. “What’s nice about water is the fact that it’s relatively uniform and it’s easy to ‘wash out’ that background and see anomalies,” Dr. Lee says.
But the problem is that the oceans present a vast amount of area to protect. Says Dr. Lee, “To see all of it is really a compromise between having a whole bunch of systems monitoring this type of water or systems that are rich in the sky, where case you will have 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 will be the shift from CCD to CMOS sensors since the latter is surpassing the product quality and gratification from 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 high-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 a substitute for electron-multiplying CCDs (EMCCDs), says Leon van Rooijen, Business Line Director Global Security at Adimec. Thanks 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 must be cooled in order to provide the most effective performance. “Which is quite some challenge inside the sensation of integrating power consumption and also the fact that you have to provide high voltage to the sensors,” van Rooijen says. “And if you wish to have systems operating to get a long duration without maintenance, an EMCCD is not the most effective solution.”
To resolve these challenges, Adimec is concentrating on image processing “to get the most from the most recent generation CMOS ahead even closer to the performance global security customers are employed 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 occurs with border surveillance systems over very long ranges, particularly as systems which were using analog video are taking steps toward higher resolution imaging to pay for the larger areas.
“When imaging at long range, you have atmospheric turbulence by the heat rising through the ground, as well as on sea level, rising or evaporated water creates problems regarding the haze,” van Rooijen says. “We are going to show turbulence mitigation inside the low-latency hardware baked into our platform and will work with system integrators to optimize it for land and sea applications because they hold the biggest issues with turbulence.”
More 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 percieve significant opportunity there and also have been utilizing some of our customers so that analytics are more automated when it comes to what exactly is being detected and also to analyze that intrusion, and then be able to require a proper response.”
Some companies have developed software that identifies anomalies in persistent monitoring. For example, in case a passenger on the airport suddenly abandons a suitcase, the software will detect that the object is unattended nefqnm everything around it will continue to move.
Even with robust vision-based surveillance capabilities in any way points of entry, U.S. border patrol and homeland security must cope with a lot bigger threat. “America does an excellent job checking people coming in, but we do a very poor job knowing if they ever leave,” Dr. Lee says. “We know the best way to solve that problem using technology, but that produces its very own problems.
“A good place to get this done is at the Automated Vision Inspection Machines within the TSA line, that you can possess a mechanism to record everybody,” Dr. Lee continues. “But that will be expensive because you have to do this at each airport in the United States. Monitoring and recording slows things down, and TSA is under a lot of pressure to speed things up.” Another surveillance option that government departments have discussed takes noncontact fingerprints at TSA every time someone flies. “Most of the American public won’t tolerate that,” Dr. Lee says. “They are likely to reason that fingerprinting is just too much government oversight, which will result in a large amount of pressure and pushback.”