Laser Technology: detecting passports being thrown over controlled areas in airports

Airports are some of the most challenging environments for delivering effective security solutions, both because of their size, and the sheer volume of passengers who pass through their terminal buildings every day. One specific area that is the most challenging of all is passport control, where the opportunity to pass personal documentation between passengers over walls to effect illegal entry is very real, and a constant headache for border enforcement agencies. Nicholas Gouloussis and Richard Hobson outline how one Greek airport has resolved the problem.

International airports are obliged to have controls in place to ensure documents are not exchanged, usually either by using ‘structural’ barriers to physically prevent passports being passed across, or by deploying electronic systems that detect objects that are being thrown.

Trial and Error
At one international airport in Greece, the authorities decided to tackle the issue first by exploring the video analytics capabilities of its existing CCTV infrastructure and then the addition of further high definition cameras with built-in video analytics.

The system requirement was based on the concept used for detecting people or objects in sterile zones. The quantitative success rate of deploying a video based detection system depends not only on a good system design but also proper camera calibration. In an indoor environment, lighting conditions, reflective backgrounds or overcrowded areas and glass surfaces can affect the reliability of the detection. After a number of unsuccessful trials delivering a capture rate close to nil, and including a large number of false alarms, it became clear that the required camera mounting heights and fields of view needed for this application could not be met by using the existing surveillance cameras.

Above all though, the main technical limitation of this technology for this particular application was the minimum object size and the maximum object speed that the analytics could detect.

Trial and Success
A second trial was therefore implemented, but this time using a combination of laser detection systems and two 5-Megapixel cameras to prove the concept. Laser sensing technology using a rotating laser beam that bounces back to the sensor to detect the size and distance of objects within the detection zone was used.

In this particular installation, one of the laser scanners was placed at the same height as the wall aperture, scanning the critical area inside outside the passport checking hall from where a thrown passport had to be detected.

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