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  • Laser Goes Where Video Can't
May 2007
OAK RIDGE, Tenn., May 22, 2007 -- A laser-based item monitoring system (LBIMS) balances the need for high-resolution monitoring and personal safety with respect for confidentiality and personal privacy -- and is possible because it does not use video.

This new look in surveillance systems was developed by researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

"Our system is specifically designed to address surveillance requirements in places where video would be unacceptable because of the presence of proprietary information or other privacy concerns," said Pete Chiaro, a member of the Engineering Science & Technology Div. at ORNL.

Using low-cost reflective tags placed on objects, LBIMS maps the precise location of high-value items. The laser can scan many points per second and can detect small changes -- less than a centimeter --- in the reflected signal, so tampering can be immediately detected.

The precision of the system is made possible by a high-resolution two-axis laser scanner capable of looking at a 60° field of view in 0.0005° increments, dividing the field of view into more than 10 billion individual pointing locations. A camera with comparable resolution over the same field of view would require a 10,000-megapixel detector.

Tests performed at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, and at the Joint Research Center in Ispra, Italy, have shown LBIMS to be relatively impervious to various attacks designed to foil the system. The Joint Research Center is involved in the development and testing of highly sophisticated laser scanning systems for a variety of applications. Even tests in highly reflective rooms, such as one with stainless steel walls, proved no challenge for LBIMS, Oak Ridge said in a statement.

Chiaro said other surveillance or monitoring products include some of the features of the LBIMS technology, but none provide its combination of capabilities. For example, in addition to being undesirable for privacy and security reasons, video with comparable resolution would be prohibitively expensive and impractical. Existing light detection and ranging (lidar) systems, which use scattered light, are optimized for detecting human-sized objects and offer angular resolution of only about 0.15°, compared to the 0.0005° angular resolution of LBIMS.

Another competing technology is bar codes and radio frequency identification; however, in addition to being susceptible to jamming, a bar code reader or RFID antenna must typically be within a few centimeters of the tagged object, ORNL said; radio frequency transmissions used in RFID systems are also subject to interception.

Co-developers of LBIMS are Tim McIntyre and Curt Maxey of the Engineering Science & Technology Div. The technology is licensed to Canberra Albuquerque Inc., which has helped transform LBIMS from a demonstration system into an fully packaged instrument housed in a security-sealed enclosure. The first systems became commercially available late last year.

Funding for the technology was provided by DOE's Office of International Safeguards.

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