• United States

Super Bowl security to use sensor fusion

Feb 02, 20065 mins

As some 65,000 football fans gather at Ford Field in Detroit Sunday for this year’s Super Bowl XL, Michigan National Guard troops will be patrolling the stadium and nearby neighborhoods with handheld computers and special sensors tied together in a uniform system to fight terrorist threats.

Similar systems have been used separately in the past to combat terrorism, but the one in place for this year’s game will for the first time allow security officials to use a single interface, one wireless network and a variety of related equipment to monitor potential threats, providing real-time data wirelessly to all security personnel.

“The big advantage here is that it uses Internet protocols, so [the incoming data] can be loaded into secure or classified Web sites, so personnel up to thousands of miles away can get readings in real time,” said Lt.Col. Clark Hinga of the Michigan National Guard’s 51st Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team.

In the past, National Guard units or other security personnel monitored sensors individually for chemical, biological or radiological threats, which required them to constantly update one another by radio, he said. Now, using sensor fusion technology from Distributed Instruments in Sterling Heights, Mich., security officials at the Super Bowl can monitor a constant flow of data from multiple sensors in one centralized command center.

Some sensors will be mounted in fixed positions, while others will be carried by National Guard personnel as they move around the stadium during the event with handheld computers.

The ability to have a mix of strategically-placed fixed sensors and mobile sensors will improve the security coverage, he said.

“It will allow us to do a better job of placing the remote monitors,” Hinga said. “This way, I can have more monitors than people, as well as it being a more low-key operation to do the monitoring. We want to protect the public without scaring them.”

The sensor fusion technology is being used by the Michigan National Guard as a field test for the U.S. Army’s Tank and Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), which is testing the technology to find ways to link sensors, military personnel, vehicles and other equipment using high-speed wireless networks for instant and reliable communications, Hinga said.

The handhelds being carried by National Guard personnel at the game will send readings back to a base station without user intervention. If any readings are abnormal, the base station can communicate with the soldiers by radio and have them investigate further, Hinga said. “We’re field testing the beta version,” he said. The devices can be carried inside clothing and don’t have to be actually monitored by the soldier carrying them — allowing security personnel to blend into the crowds.

“The objective is to keep it as low-key as possible,” Hinga said. “This system allows us to be discreet.”

The Michigan National Guard will be at the game in support of federal law enforcement authorities, but the Detroit Police Department will be in charge of security, he said. Assisting the state guard will be troops from the Wisconsin and Iowa National Guard units. The civil support teams are used to help local authorities prepare or respond to chemical, biological or radiological events, he said. Similar teams have assisted at other events, including the World Series and the Olympics.

Jeffrey Ricker, CEO of Distributed Instruments, said the sensor fusion technology developed by his company will work with sensors made by any sensor manufacturer. The software uses open standards and is open-source, based on the OSGi Service Platform, which is a standardized, component-oriented computing environment for networked services. OSGi allows networked devices to be managed from anywhere in the world, while allowing software to be installed, updated or removed on the fly while the device is operating.

Those capabilities are critical to hardware used by the military and emergency officials, Ricker said.

The software, which is still unnamed, allows users to correlate sensor data to the exact location of a sensor using Global Positioning System (GPS) information.

One key to Distributed Instrument’s technology is the use of the Transducer Data Exchange Protocol (TDXP), which is being submitted to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards for consideration as a standard protocol. TDXP is a highly-scalable platform that provides plug-and-play capability for making sensors and sensor networks Internet-accessible by acting as a membrane between digital data and physical devices. “That is something that’s been missing,” Ricker said.

During the Super Bowl, several dozen National Guard troops will be carrying handheld devices from Sony and OQO that are specially prepared for the mission.

Future capabilities could include small wireless cameras linked to facial-recognition software databases that would help identify suspects in crowds, he said. “It can be kind of scary,” Ricker said, “but it’s not as scary as the alternative.”


Todd R. Weiss is an award-winning technology journalist and freelance writer who worked as a staff reporter for Computerworld from 2000 to 2008. Weiss covers enterprise IT from cloud computing to Hadoop to virtualization, enterprise applications such as ERP, CRM and BI, Linux and open source, and more. He spends his spare time working on a book about an unheralded member of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and watching classic Humphrey Bogart movies.

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