Blown away? Prototype camera, chips survive explosions

camera test bus explosion

Can surveillance cameras (and their recorded data) mounted in buses and other forms of public transportation survive a catastrophic explosion?

Seems so, at least according to tests being conducted by the US Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, which has taken to blowing up retired buses in Maryland to prove the point.

The department recently blew up one such bus that contained 8 cameras with 16 ruggedized memory chips.  After a substantial explosion where the bus was annihilated, 14 of the 16 chips and 7 of the 8 cameras survived the blast.  Of the 14 cameras recovered, "every video minute on there was recovered without degradation," DHS said.

According to a DHS article, the prototype cameras and their chips from Videology and Visual Defence-USA need to be sturdy enough to withstand bombing attacks, fires or floods, but inexpensive enough to use in places where a complete surveillance system is not workable.  Security officials in New York, Washington, Chicago and Seattle as well as the Transportation Security Administration are interested in developing the hardened cameras.

 While ruggedized memory chips currently on the market can survive heavy vibrations in industrial applications like lumber and drilling, these prototype chips are a "step beyond," said Stephen Dennis, a DHS program manager.

Images recovered from working cameras would be used by law enforcement only forensically after an incident, rather than transmitting video to a third party.  At $150-$200 each, outfitting a bus with cameras is a bargain compared to a surveillance system likely to cost more than $6,000, the DHS article stated.

The blast test is the second if three phases of evaluation the cameras will go through (the two prototypes were winnowed from 36 in the first round).  The final phase of testing will investigate how well the systems survive the kind of heat likely to be found in a burning vehicle. Engineers will bake the camera-and-chip units inside an oven at high temperatures to see if they turn to a crisp, DHS said.

DHS noted that the forensic camera system is being built through a public-private development initiative known as System Efficacy through Commercialization, Utilization, Relevance and Evaluation (SECURE). SECURE projects typically don't solely use taxpayer money and develop products and services more quickly than they could be developed through a public program alone.

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