Tactical infrastructure such as fencing, roads, and lights are essential to securing a nation’s border. But it alone is not enough to stop the unlawful movement of individuals and contraband in to a country.
“Technology is definitely 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,” based on testimony from CBP officials in a Senate hearing on homeland security in 2015.
And machine vision’s fingerprints are common over that technology. “The details extracted from fixed and mobile surveillance systems, ground sensors, imaging systems, along with other advanced technologies enhances situational awareness and better enables CBP to detect, identify, monitor, and appropriately respond to threats inside the nation’s border regions,” the testimony states.
In 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 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, 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 trouble with vision systems used in border surveillance applications is handling the diversity of your outdoor environment using its fluctuating lighting and climate conditions, as well as varied terrain. Regardless of the challenges, “you can find places where you can implement controls to improve 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 in the U.S. for illegal passengers.
“Those trains will need to go under a trellis, which can be built with the correct sensors and lighting to help 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 when 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 exactly the same area of the spectrum. So customers count on other regions of the spectrum including shortwave infrared (SWIR) to try to catch the real difference.”
Infrared imaging works well in monitoring motorized watercraft since the boat’s engine includes 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 however , the oceans present an enormous level of area to protect. Says Dr. Lee, “To view all of it is a compromise between having a whole bunch of systems monitoring the water or systems that 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 found in border surveillance applications will be the shift from CCD to CMOS sensors because the latter is surpassing the quality and satisfaction in the former. To allow for this change, two years ago Adimec Advanced Image Systems bv (Eindhoven, the Netherlands) integrated the most recent generation of CMOS image sensors – which 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 an alternative 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 example, an EMCCD must be cooled in order to offer the most effective performance. “Which is quite some challenge within the feeling of integrating power consumption as well as because you have to provide high voltage towards the sensors,” van Rooijen says. “And if you want to have systems operating for a long duration without maintenance, an EMCCD is not really the very best solution.”
To fix these challenges, Adimec is focusing on image processing “to obtain the best from the newest 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 also is tackling the challenge of mitigating the turbulence that takes place with border surveillance systems over very long ranges, particularly as systems which were using analog video are now taking steps toward higher resolution imaging to cover the bigger areas.
“When imaging at long range, you might have atmospheric turbulence through the heat rising from your ground, as well as 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 embedded in our platform and will work with system integrators to optimize it for land and sea applications because they hold the biggest problems with turbulence.”
Greater 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 is a little slower to incorporate analytics,” says Dr. Lee of Pyramid Imaging. “We see significant opportunity there and have been utilizing some of our customers to ensure that analytics are more automated in terms of what exactly is being detected and to analyze that intrusion, and after that have the ability to take a proper response.”
Some companies have developed software that identifies anomalies in persistent monitoring. For example, if a passenger at the airport suddenly abandons a suitcase, the program will detect that the object is unattended nefqnm anything else around it continues to move.
Even with robust vision-based surveillance capabilities whatsoever points of entry, U.S. border patrol and homeland security need to cope with a significantly bigger threat. “America does an excellent job checking people coming in, but we all do an extremely poor job knowing when they ever leave,” Dr. Lee says. “We know how you can solve that problem using technology, but that creates its very own problems.
“A good place to achieve this reaches the Automated Vision Inspection Machines inside the TSA line, where you can use a mechanism to record everybody,” Dr. Lee continues. “But that is going to be expensive because you have to do this at each airport in the usa. Monitoring and recording slows things down, and TSA is under a lot of pressure to speed things up.” Another surveillance option that government agencies have discussed is taking noncontact fingerprints at TSA every time someone flies. “Most of the American public won’t tolerate that,” Dr. Lee says. “They are going to reason that fingerprinting is too much government oversight, which will result in a lot of pressure and pushback.”