Tactical infrastructure like fencing, roads, and lighting is important to securing a nation’s border. However it alone is not enough to stop the unlawful movement of individuals and contraband into 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,” according to testimony from CBP officials in a Senate hearing on homeland security in 2015.
And machine vision’s fingerprints are common over that technology. “The data obtained 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 inside 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 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 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 problem with vision systems found in border surveillance applications is handling the diversity of an outdoor environment featuring 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 of the system,” says Dr. Rex Lee, president and CEO of Pyramid Imaging (Tampa, Florida). He points to customers who monitor trains along the southern border in the U.S. for illegal passengers.
“Those trains will need to go within trellis, which can be equipped with the proper sensors and lighting to assist inspect the trains,” Dr. Lee says. Government agencies tasked with border security use infrared cameras to detect targets at night and then in other low-light conditions, but thermal imaging does have its limits, too. “Infrared cameras work really well when you can use them in high-contrast conditions,” Dr. Lee says. “However, if you’re seeking to pick up a human at 98.6°F on a desert floor which is 100°F, the desert is emitting radiation at nearly the identical area of the spectrum. So customers depend on other regions in the spectrum including 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 an enormous amount of area to cover. Says Dr. Lee, “To find out everything is actually a compromise between having a lot of systems monitoring this type of water or systems which can be rich in the sky, by which case you have the problem of seeing something really tiny in a huge overall view.”
CMOS Surpasses CCD – One key change in imaging systems used in border surveillance applications will be the shift from CCD to CMOS sensors as the latter is surpassing the standard and gratification of the former. To accommodate this change, a couple of 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 number of rugged commercial off-the-shelf cameras for top-end security applications. TMX cameras have 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. 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. For example, an EMCCD needs to be cooled in order to offer the very best performance. “Which is quite some challenge within the sense of integrating power consumption and also the fact that you need to provide high voltage for 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 fix these challenges, Adimec is working on image processing “to obtain the most out of the newest generation CMOS ahead closer to the performance global security customers are utilized to with EMCCD without all the downsides in the cost, integration, and reliability,” van Rooijen says.
Adimec is also tackling the task 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 by the heat rising from the ground, as well as on sea level, rising or evaporated water creates problems with regards to the haze,” van Rooijen says. “We will show turbulence mitigation in 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 plenty 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 possess been working with a lot of our customers in order that analytics are more automated when it comes to what is being detected and to analyze that intrusion, then have the ability to have a proper response.”
Some companies have developed software that identifies anomalies in persistent monitoring. For instance, if a passenger in the airport suddenly abandons a suitcase, the program will detect that this 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 much bigger threat. “The Usa does a very good job checking people coming in, but perform a very poor job knowing when 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 achieve 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 is going to be expensive because you have to do this at each and every airport in the United States. 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 and every time someone flies. “Most of the American public won’t tolerate that,” Dr. Lee says. “They are going to reason that fingerprinting is just too much government oversight, and that will result in a lot of pressure and pushback.”