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A virtual wall using computer technology and thousands of portable sensors is offered as a solution for stopping illegal immigration and drug smuggling along the U.S.-Mexico border. WilliamsRDM is confident that its sensor system would work better than the physical border wall advocated by President Trump — for a fraction of the cost.
The total cost of installing WilliamsRDM’s system along the entire border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California could be about $300 million, company officials said. That’s a little more than 1% of the roughly $21.6 billion estimate for a brick-and-mortar wall, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
According to star-telegram.com, the company’s project has been dubbed the START Sensor Network. START is an acronym for Sense, TARget Track.
Maisel Klutts, WilliamsRDM’s director of engineering and planning, said they “should have something able to deploy in the first quarter of next year as far as a viable product.”
The company’s officials say what makes their plan better than previous efforts is the design of sensors they created in-house during the past year. The company says it has applied for a patent for its design, which includes multiple of layers of motion, infrared and other methods of detection.
The egg-shaped sensors are not much bigger than a softball, are built out of an impact-resistant urethane potting with weight on one end like toy Weebles, so that when they are dropped even from an aircraft they land upright.
Once the sensors have been tossed into place, they are powered by a small solar panel,
which powers batteries designed to last at least four and possibly seven years. A proprietary combination of detectors inside each egg-shaped sensor is designed to identify motion, infrared light and heat and other pieces of evidence that human life is nearby.
The portable sensors would be dropped in an asymmetrical grid pattern. They would turn themselves on upon impacting the ground and send signals to a computer program. Then they would wait for humans to cross their paths.
The sensors are designed to know the difference between a human walking across a field and a wild animal foraging for food — or a pickup driving through an area versus a tree blowing in the wind.
The sensors then “talk” to each other and send data to computer software that can be used on essentially any device including laptops, tablets or smartphones. Whoever is monitoring the system — the Border Patrol, for example — can then watch for the information coming from the sensors to change colors if an intruder is detected.
The sensors do have some vulnerabilities. For example, someone crossing the border illegally could come across a sensor and either pick it up off the ground and carry it away, or perhaps try to destroy it. Or some sensors could inadvertently land upside down or perhaps in a shady area that limits their battery charging capability. But even if a sensor is lost, the remaining sensors in the field can continue to communicate with each other.
Also, if anyone were to walk away with a sensor, the motion would be detected by the computer software.
The company has already shown its system to representatives from the acquisitions department of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and received encouraging feedback, chief executive officer Della Williams said.