What's That In Your Pocket?

June 1, 2005
A passive, millimeter wave camera system detects concealed weapons or pilfered products.

When Sam, the machine operator, got word that he was about to be laid off from his factory job, he didn’t take it well. The next day, Sam showed up for work with a loaded gun stuffed in his trousers pocket.

But what Sam didn’t know as he approached the factory entrance was that a special kind of camera was watching—one that uses millimeter wave sensor technology designed to detect concealed weapons such as guns, knives or bombs, whether metal, plastic, ceramic or composite.

When the camera system spotted the object in Sam’s pocket, it compared the millimeter wave “signature” of the object to the signatures of known weapon types in its database and made a match. Within three-tenths of a second, the system automatically locked the door that Sam was about to enter and sent an alarm to plant security staff. Security personnel were able to view a real-time video image of Sam that displayed a “gun detected” warning, with brackets superimposed over the image at the place where the gun was hidden. The alert allowed the staff to take steps to avoid an incident.

Fiction to fact?

While this account of a fictional event may sound futuristic, scenarios such as this could soon become reality, thanks to a new product scheduled for initial shipment this month that is billed as “the world’s first real-time concealed weapons detection camera.” Developed by defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., Bethesda, Md., under funding from the National Institute of Justice, the camera system has been licensed exclusively for commercial sale by Brijot Imaging Systems Inc., Orlando, Fla.

At a list price of $60,000, the BIS-WDS Prime (for Brijot Imaging Systems Weapons Detection System) camera may seem pricey for routine factory security surveillance. And in fact, Brijot executives expect initial applications for the camera will come in non-industrial jobs such as very important person (VIP) protection and crowd screening at large public events and venues.

But Brijot also sees a factory market for the product. Weapons-related incidents occur more frequently at U.S. industrial workplaces than many might think, says Brian Andrew, Brijot president and chief executive officer. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, homicides by shooting in U.S. “manufacturing,” and “transportation and warehousing” categories, totaled 68 during 2003, for example. That’s an average of more than five per month.

Each shooting incident is likely to cost big dollars at the company involved, due to downtime, legal and liability costs, Andrew observes.

What’s more, if protection against weapons-related incidents is not enough to cost-justify a BIS-WDS Prime system, Brijot also plans to push the camera for use in heading off industrial product shrinkage. “Loss prevention is a staggeringly big problem, especially at places that have easily saleable stuff, such as DVDs (digital video discs) or alcoholic beverages,” Andrew points out. Because the Brijot camera system can be used to spot virtually anything hidden on a person, it can help companies keep products and material from walking out the door with employees or others, he says. Companies that make high-value products will also be candidates for the system, Andrew adds.

Energy detection

The BIS-WDS Prime system combines a video camera with a radiometer that can detect millimeter wave energy emitted by all objects. Radiometer technology has long been used for radio telescopes. Every object in the universe has a millimeter wave “signature,” and the Brijot system distinguishes the differences in energy signatures between objects, and processes them via sophisticated software algorithms. The key breakthrough for the BIS-WDS Prime, says Andrew, was developing a system that is both low cost and highly sensitive—distinguishing a one degree Kelvin difference in millimeter wave signatures.

Unlike X-ray systems, the Brijot system is completely passive, meaning that no energy is emitted—a plus for human screening applications, Andrew points out. And unlike systems such as metal detectors, which require individuals to pass through a prescribed area, the BIS-WDS Prime enables “stand-off” security; the system has a range of 45 feet and there is no need for the person being imaged to stand still or cooperate.

The BIS-WDS camera measures 13-by-17.9-by-27.8 inches, and is equipped with both analog and digital Internet Protocol (IP) connections, enabling interface with other security devices and networks. “For installation,” says Andrew, “you just take off the video camera you’ve got on the front door right now and you put our camera in its place.”

For more information, search keyword “camera” at www.automationworld.com.