(DHS S&T)

New Research Improves Vehicle Inspections at Security Checkpoints

Federal agencies screen an average of 235,000 vehicles every day for illegal contraband, explosives and other potential threats in the United States. This important work is performed at secure facilities across the nation and at hundreds of ports of entry (POE) and checkpoints along our border. The sheer volume and need for the efficient throughput of vehicles at inspection sites may present challenges during examination of vehicles and their occupants.

Currently, federal law enforcement personnel (LEP) perform a visual search of the undercarriage using mirrors, or, if available, an under-vehicle inspection scanner. The scanning units are expensive, have moderate resolution and require vehicles to go only five miles per hour. It is time-consuming and tedious, but critically necessary to prevent the smuggling of narcotics, explosives, weapons—and unfortunately, even humans.

Collaboration brings a new solution into ‘VIEW’

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has partnered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Federal Protective Service (FPS) to provide a capability that will be a game-changer to the vehicle screening process.

The Vehicle Inspection for Early Warning (VIEW) research and development initiative is intended to be innovative—providing a low-cost, automated, fast and intuitive vehicle inspection system for POEs and checkpoints and a solution for protecting critical infrastructure and key resources, such as soft targets and special events. The system was designed, developed and tested in partnership with Synthetik Applied Technologies, LLC, through a grant funded by S&T.

VIEW incorporates functional requirements defined by CBP and the operational needs of FPS so that the resulting device enables both agencies to perform necessary tasks critical to the mission. Over the past two years, the DHS team has refined requirements, developed performance criteria and overseen demonstrations of the various phases and versions of the VIEW scanner technology. The VIEW effort recently moved into its design, test and evaluation phase where the technology will be assessed in an operational environment to verify it meets the functional and performance requirements of CBP and FPS. Subsequent phases will see CBP integrate the technology into its existing architecture and screening procedures, while FPS will develop ways to incorporate VIEW into their daily operations. While the initial deployments will be focused upon secondary inspections, the ultimate goal is to use the technology for scanning all vehicles at POEs and checkpoints.

An innovative upgrade answers the need for speed

VIEW consists of a robust, weatherproof, roadway-mounted device containing sensors and cameras that scans vehicles as they pass over. The system is paired with a standard laptop or workstation and high-resolution monitor for reviewing scans. It is designed to be easily deployed in both fixed and mobile configurations. The device is ruggedized and will need to withstand extreme temperatures experienced at the Northern border in the winter and at the Southern border in the summer. And by effectively automating undercarriage inspections, VIEW addresses numerous operational challenges.

“One issue is speed,” explained Jeff Booth, S&T Research & Development principal investigator. “We want to be able to get the majority of vehicles through POEs and checkpoints much faster and identify those that need to be further screened. The other issue is more layers of security—with earlier warnings of potential threats, we can identify issues away from a soft target or critical infrastructure, which is key.” Cutting-edge artificial intelligence, deep learning, and pattern recognition capabilities make all this, and more, possible. The VIEW technology is designed to detect the smallest potential threat anomalies—strengthening security and automating the repetitive processes of an operator, which are intensive, tedious, tiring and can occur in challenging weather conditions.

The advanced capabilities of the VIEW technology will address many of the routine mechanics of inspections normally performed by LEP, allowing their time to be more effectively applied to the intuitive nuisances of vehicle inspection that are beyond computer algorithms and only an operator can identify.

Building an integrated system with commercially available tech

The technology will greatly surpass current capabilities in other ways as well. CBP and FPS have specified a number of challenging requirements for image resolution, rendering and manipulation functions. Lens focal length, clarity and field of view are all being assessed to determine effectiveness and suitability.

The upgraded imaging system features commercial-off-the-shelf equipment—including multiple high-definition cameras capable of reading a barcode on a spinning axle at 20 miles per hour and is four times faster than currently deployed technology. The multi-camera array of the new system will produce scans that are double the quality of the legacy system. Special attention is also being paid to the selection, positioning, and design of the corresponding lighting system to remove shadows or glare and illuminate hidden areas previously unavailable for review. Perhaps most notable is the use of multiple camera angles for optical orientation to enable both 2D and 3D visualizations for a “behind-the-scenes” detection capability not previously available for vehicle inspections.

FPS Countermeasure Operations Division Director David Sousa explains, “The high-definition resolution and 3D flythrough capability of the vehicle undercarriage to look behind and around compartments provides greater detail than traditional under-vehicle screening systems.”

“We’ve learned a lot in the past two years in terms of the progression of the technology research and what’s possible,” added Booth. “When we first started this, we never thought we’d have a 3D fly-through rendering of the undercarriage of vehicles, but that’s one of the new functions that should revolutionize inspections in the future.”

A (3D) vision of the future

Operational testing and evaluation, as well as integration into an established checkpoint, is scheduled for fall 2021. The VIEW technology also has commercial dual-use opportunities with vehicle fleet management and other mechanical maintenance for vehicles. VIEW represents a significant innovation for the safety of our nation’s critical infrastructure, with the potential to positively impact security for a number of applications across the nation.

Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO) are extremely adaptive and continue to find new ways to evade detection. With VIEW, officers can quickly ascertain if a gas tank has been removed and replaced, if secret compartments have been installed, or if something has been concealed in places that couldn’t be readily seen without performing a physical inspection. Humans, drugs and firearms are routinely trafficked via vehicles, and this system gives CBP a vital advantage over the DTOs.

Sousa added, “From fixed federal facilities to special security events, FPS can leverage and deploy VIEW to enhance our already robust suite of technical countermeasures to protect critical infrastructure, personnel, and the public.”

Additional information about VIEW can be found on our website.

You can also watch an informational video about VIEW online here.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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