Lasers for video surveillance

Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have built a new optical surveillance based on lasers. Their Laser-Based Item Monitoring System (LBIMS) is designed to protect high-value items in high security environments. It's also supposed to respect your privacy and be the equivalent of cameras with a 10,000-megapixel resolution. The LBIMS can be used in situations where conventional surveillance systems cannot be employed, such as areas where a RFID system could trigger an explosion. It should become commercially available this year.

Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have built a new optical surveillance based on lasers. Their Laser-Based Item Monitoring System (LBIMS) is designed to protect high-value items in high security environments. It's also supposed to respect your privacy and be the equivalent of cameras with a 10,000-megapixel resolution. The LBIMS can be used in situations where conventional surveillance systems cannot be employed, such as areas where video surveillance has been specifically prohibited and areas where a RFID system could trigger an explosion. It should become commercially available this year.

ORNL's Laser-Based Item Monitoring System

The U.S. National Laboratories routinely publish news releases, but very often don't provide public images about their achievements. So I had to read a whole patent to provide you with some illustrations for this post (details below). You can see above "the diffuse reflected cone of light returning to the photonic receiver portion of a laser scanning transceiver system in accordance with one embodiment of the invention." (Credit: ORNL)

ORNL's Laser-Based Item Monitoring System

The above diagram illustrates the interaction of multiple retroreflectors with multiple laser scanning transceiver systems." As stated later in the patent, "Multiple receivers, separately located in space, could provide enhanced detection signal-to-noise characteristics through signal correlation methods and expand the system field of view. It also becomes feasible with multiple independently-located receivers to collect information that only lies within certain reflected regions." (Credit: ORNL)

These laser-guided devices have been developed at ONRL's Engineering Science & Technology Division. The researchers involved are Pete Chiaro and Tim McIntyre of the Sensor Science and Technology group, and Curt Maxey of the Photonics group.

Here are some details about the LBIMS.

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, meaning 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-degree field of view in 0.0005-degree 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.

And Chiaro notes that the LBIMS technology provides more capabilities than current surveillance systems.

For example, in addition to being undesirable for the aforementioned 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 degree compared to the 0.0005-degree angular resolution of LBIMS.

As I mentioned above, the researchers at ORNL have been granted a U.S. patent for this device on March 23, 2006 under the name "Laser scanning system for object monitoring. Here is a link to this patent provided by FreePatentsOnline.com. If you want to see the patent with all the figures, but you don't want to open a free account on this site, you can visit pat2pdf.org and enter the number of the patent, 20060060651, to obtain a full PDF version of the patent (24 pages, 929 KB). The illustrations above were extracted from this document, along with their captions.

Sources: Oak Ridge National Laboratory news release, May 17, 2007; and various websites

You'll find related stories by following the links below.