Tactical infrastructure like fencing, roads, and lights are 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 all the 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 with a Senate hearing on homeland security in 2015.
And machine vision’s fingerprints are common over that technology. “The information 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 react to threats inside the nation’s border regions,” the testimony states.
In the U.S.-Mexico border within 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, as well as simple deployment in border security applications.
Managing Diverse Conditions – The perennial trouble with vision systems found in border surveillance applications is handling the diversity of the outdoor environment with its fluctuating lighting and climatic conditions, as well as varied terrain. Inspite of the challenges, “you will find places where you can implement controls to enhance upon the intelligence from 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 have to go under a trellis, which can be designed 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 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 over a desert floor which is 100°F, the desert is emitting radiation at nearly the identical area of the spectrum. So customers rely on other regions of the spectrum including shortwave infrared (SWIR) to try and catch the real difference.”
Infrared imaging works well in monitoring motorized watercraft because the boat’s engine features a thermal signature. “What’s nice about water is the fact it’s relatively uniform and it’s very easy to ‘wash out’ that background and see anomalies,” Dr. Lee says.
But however , the oceans present a vast quantity of area to protect. Says Dr. Lee, “To see everything is really a compromise between having a lot of systems monitoring the water or systems which are loaded with the sky, where 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 found in border surveillance applications is definitely the shift from CCD to CMOS sensors since the latter is surpassing the quality and satisfaction in the former. To support this change, a couple of years ago Adimec Advanced Image Systems bv (Eindhoven, the Netherlands) integrated the latest 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 high-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 a replacement 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. As an example, an EMCCD has to be cooled in order to provide the best performance. “Which is quite some challenge inside the sense of integrating power consumption and in addition because you need to provide high voltage to the sensors,” van Rooijen says. “And if you need to have systems operating to get a long duration without maintenance, an EMCCD is not really the most effective solution.”
To resolve these challenges, Adimec is working on image processing “to get the best from the newest generation CMOS to come 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 task of mitigating the turbulence that develops 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 protect the larger areas.
“When imaging at long range, you have atmospheric turbulence from the heat rising from the ground, and also 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 embedded in our platform and can work with system integrators to optimize it for land and sea applications simply because they have the biggest issues with turbulence.”
A Lot More Than Pictures – Like machine vision systems deployed in industrial applications, border security systems generate plenty of data that needs analysis. “The surveillance industry traditionally has become a little slower to include analytics,” says Dr. Lee of Pyramid Imaging. “We percieve significant opportunity there and also have been dealing with some of our customers in order that analytics are definitely more automated with regards to what is being detected and also to analyze that intrusion, then have the ability to have a proper response.”
Some companies have developed software that identifies anomalies in persistent monitoring. As an example, when a passenger on the airport suddenly abandons a suitcase, the software will detect that the object is unattended nefqnm anything else around it will continue to move.
Even with robust vision-based surveillance capabilities whatsoever points of entry, U.S. border patrol and homeland security need to deal with a much bigger threat. “The Usa does a pretty good job checking people arriving, but perform 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 right place to achieve this are at the Automated Vision Inspection Machines inside the TSA line, in which 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 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 takes noncontact fingerprints at TSA each time someone flies. “A lot of the American public won’t tolerate that,” Dr. Lee says. “They are likely to reason that fingerprinting is simply too much government oversight, and that will result in a lot of pressure and pushback.”