Coastal surveillance is critical to the security of a nation’s borders. Countries across the globe face a multitude of challenges related to maritime security, and ever more advanced approaches are deploying new technology to address the emerging threats. In this second part of a multi-part story on coastal surveillance, we have reached out to industry experts to assess the extent to which unmanned systems are being embraced and the role played by big data and artificial intelligence.
Jorge Ramirez, managing director for the Americas of Travizory Border Security, observed that over recent years some of the newer systems that have come to market are designed to be unmanned, addressing the often-overwhelming demands placed on humans. “We are increasingly seeing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol territorial borders, as they increase the effective coverage of vast areas which cannot be entirely covered by fixed ground-based sensors or personnel on the ground,” he said.
While decisions indeed remain a human responsibility, users are increasingly looking for automatic detection systems, according to Aymeric de Cagny, naval business developer at HGH Infrared Systems. “In this sense, the latest developed systems integrate a mix of technologies. They particularly bring the ability for humans and autonomous systems to collaborate and exchange information. Fixed installations like panoramic surveillance systems (typically radar or thermal videos) allow detection of threats in the first place,” he said. “In order to improve the reliability and the reactivity of the system, automatic detection means are required. With automatic detection integrated in fixed installations, the human operator benefits from quick and reliable information and can take a decision based on pertinent data.”
On the maritime front, unmanned maritime systems (UMS) are now helping to patrol territorial waters, according to Ramirez. “Such unmanned vehicles make it possible for nations to patrol their vast territorial waters, efficiently and safely — a particular concern for those with a large and expansive maritime territory to oversee,” he said. “Floating or semi-fixed sensor installations in the ocean can help to enhance and broaden coverage. Unfortunately, however, alerts from fixed (or semi-fixed) sensor-stations can be too vague to enable effective action and decision-making. For example, there is no way to know whether an alert was caused by a mammal, a faulty sensor trip, or a legitimate event of concern.”
To verify the existence of a threat, unmanned or aerial vehicles can be sent on a reconnaissance mission, Ramirez said. “This is where such technology is truly valuable, reducing the burden on staff and eliminating the need to send a team of people on what could be a pointless reconnaissance mission. Importantly, these vehicles can be dispatched quickly and cover a vast area before returning home to refuel,” he said.
Thales Group has developed radars that can be installed on both manned platforms and unmanned vehicles. “As the number of surveillance aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) utilized for surveillance missions increases, the radars level of automation is a key component for such platforms. Our Master series radar contributes to turning these assets into great force multipliers,” a spokesperson for Thales said. “As smart radar, our sensor can easily share data to more deeply analyze raw signals and get new behavior analysis algorithms to apply for upcoming missions.”
To complete the coastal surveillance missions, several radars and other sensors (AIS, radios, etc.) are required, as well as control centers that will merge the data from all these sensors, and thus build a global image of the maritime situation, according to Thales. “Generally, these systems include sensors (radars, AIS, electro-optics), radios (VHF, HF), one or more Control Centers, a data communication network, as well as all the necessary infrastructure (civil engineering and works, energy supply, towers etc.),” the spokesperson said. “We work closely with our customers to choose the most appropriate installation sites. The Coast Watcher 100, for example, can be installed at altitudes up to 1,000 meters while retaining the ability to detect small targets. This allows, when the geography permits it, to cover a much larger area with a lower number of radars.”
Thales’ Smart radar applications are dedicated to facilitating crew workflow. “Sensor autonomy, self-learning, and the capability to analyze and classify large volumes of data all work to increase the radar’s ability to autonomously perform a number of detection, identification and surveillance tasks. Operators are freer to focus on the outcomes of such processes for faster, more accurate decision-making,” said the spokesperson. “The increased reliability of all sensors, the number and duration of the missions, and the future collaboration between platforms and sensors will increase the amount of raw data for operators. In order to face this real deluge of data, automation will be key to mission success.”
Nowadays, data can be considered a country’s front line in the fight against border threats — the more data, the better equipped a nation is to anticipate and identify risks before they can enter the country, according to Ramirez. “As such, big data is a necessity on next-generation border security systems like those developed by Travizory. A next-generation border security system must be able to ingest large datasets from various sources, for governments to achieve a comprehensive situational awareness of their borders,” he said. “By developing a holistic understanding of individuals and patterns of travel across borders, nations are able to make better-informed and swift decisions to combat any variety of national security threat.”
Artificial intelligence enables automatic recognition and classification of the acquired data, said de Cagny. “It can lower the false alarm rate and it makes the system more reliable. In the near future, big data and artificial intelligence are key to improve human decision efficiency. Raw data and information are processed before being provided to the human operator,” he said. “A good example of this type of systems is the Spynel panoramic camera, it is a thermal radar that provides automatic detection and tracking over 360° at high rotation rate (typically 1Hz). Spynel also provides a thermal panorama which allows the operator to visualize each detection.”
To provide automatic classification on sea surface detections, Spynel’s Cyclope software uses AI to recognize shapes of floating objects. “The operator can also define specific rules of detections and tracking based on several criteria: track position, speed, size, behavior, classification type, AIS data, etc. Cyclope can also integrate with other external sensors like radar AIS or cameras. In its hypervisor version, data from multiple sensors is displayed on one single interface in a centralized control room to improve situational awareness,” said de Cagny. “All these capabilities enable a user to get reliable and pertinent information to understand the presence of a threat. Their decision is then easier and quicker. This also helps decrease the use of operational means like security crews. The threat is known and classified before any operational action.”
Travizory uses advanced data management and analytics to establish hidden patterns and discover unknown correlations from within these large datasets — flagging issues and potential threats to human officers. “Most importantly, such systems need to be designed to anticipate new and emerging threats. AI is a crucial component in achieving this as it allows advanced systems to analyze and learn from the data — establishing patterns and adapting to evolving threats,” said Ramirez. “Cloud-based computing, big data and AI are here to stay and identifying new, innovative ways of applying them to new sectors — including border security — is paramount for any government. Computing power will continue to increase to stay ahead of the ever-increasing need for big data analysis to further improve comprehensive situational awareness for governments.”