INTELLIGENCE AND SURVEILLANCE
Surveillance Technology Branching Outside Military Applications
LONDON — With military budgets getting tighter, companies are reducing the cost and size of surveillance systems in order to appeal to a wider range of customers.
The newest products released at the Defense Systems and Equipment International exhibition conform to that trend and also reveal advancements in weight and image quality.
"Really in the new era, border surveillance [and] critical infrastructure protection is the future business direction of so many companies that do electro-optics and surveillance" because military business is reducing, said Simon Harrison, sales manager for Chess Dynamics Ltd, a British company specializing in surveillance technologies.
Chess Dynamics displayed a new configuration of its Hawkeye system, which included thermal imaging, wide angle and narrow angle cameras and laser range finder. The system is usually configured with four Blighter radar, each with a 90-degree field of view.
The new configuration incorporates only one radar, which is mounted on a rotator that travels 360 degrees around the system. That allows a full range of coverage at a lower price point, Harrison told National Defense.
The less-expensive configuration would be attractive for border and coastal surveillance entities, but it also has applications for oil refineries, nuclear plants or airports, he said. "It's an area that we're putting more interest in ... and we're trying to get more capable systems for longer range, but at an economical price."
OptaSense’s surveillance system — which detects acoustic signatures using fiber optic cables buried in the ground — already is widely used by oil and gas companies to detect disturbances to their pipelines. At DSEI, the company announced a fence-mounted version.
“There are a lot of systems that are out on fences already, but they have a lot of problems with false alarm rates where they don’t work that well, “ said Arch Owen, director of program development for the company, which is owned by QinetiQ. “What happens is, because of the false alarm rates, people eventually turn the system off.”
The product could be useful for OptaSense’s existing border patrol and pipeline security market, especially in the Middle East where high winds often cause false alarms. The first system will be delivered this month, said Owen, who didn’t want to reveal the customer’s identity.
The system detects movements that cause vibrations of the fence — such as someone trying to climb it, tamper with it or put a ladder on it — and can pinpoint the activity within 10 meters, or about 32 feet.
“That solution is not really intended to look for people walking at distances at 10 meters [from the fence] like the buried solution would,” he said. However, it would be easier to repair the fence mounted system in cases where the cable is cut or damaged than the original underground system, which requires the cable to be dug up and then spliced together.
Although many high-definition surveillance cameras are available in the market, most pan-and-tilt mounts cannot pass on those digital signals, said Mike Casey, vice president of sales and marketing for Instro Precision Ltd, which makes pan-and-tilt heads. That leaves military and border patrol lagging behind the commercial sector when it comes to viewing HD video.
Instro’s D-series of pan-and-tilt heads will be able to deliver digital, high-definition video at speeds of one gigabit per second through Ethernet ports, he said.
Original equipment manufacturers have “cameras that are HD capable, but they can't deliver the benefits of streaming video,” Casey said. “The big advantage of streaming video is you can connect it to a router switch and you can do remote surveillance at a control center many kilometers away just using Ethernet transport."
Other pan-and-tilt heads need fiber optic rotating joints in order to pass along digital signals, he said. That one component can cost more than $4,700, which makes using fiber optic technology cost-prohibitive to most customers.
Instro’s first system in the “D series” will be able to deliver digital video at less than $8,000, which means that customers will be able to get high quality imagery at much lower cost than what was previously available, Casey said.
Also at DSEI, Thales unveiled a lighter version of its SOPHIE UF surveillance system — the SOPHIE Lite. The system weighs around 3 pounds, a 4 pound weight reduction from the original system.
SOPHIE Lite contains an uncooled thermal imager, near-infrared sensor, laser rangefinder and global positioning system.
Thales officials believe that the smaller size of SOPHIE Lite will make applicable to homeland security, force protection and covert surveillance, a news release said.
“Switching from standard optical to digital technologies has reduced the weight and enhanced the image delivered to the user,” Gil Michielin, vice president of Thales’s optronics business, said the release.
Although many surveillance companies are focusing on homeland security and border patrol, some continue to build technologies that target the military.
Denmark-based Copenhagen Sensor Technology, which specializes in rugged surveillance devices, debuted a new ruggedized short-wave infrared camera. Unlike thermal imagers, SWIR technologies use visible light, but they can see more clearly in foggy or dusty conditions where normal camera imagery would be obscured.
The camera will be tested to withstand temperatures from negative 22 to 158 degrees Farenheit, and it will be able to withstand enough vibration and shock to be mounted on a vehicle, said Kim Christiansen, CST’s sales director. Some testing has already been completed at the company’s facilities, but it will also undergo testing in British and Danish military labs, he added.
The camera can see about 4 miles away, depending on which lens is on the camera. “The resolution is a little bit lower compared to a normal camera,” he said.
The camera will be available for purchase by the end of the year, he said.