No hiding place

A network of millimetre-wave radar sensors is being developed to protect potential terrorist targets such as airports and power stations.


A network of millimetre-wave radar sensors is being developed at Bath University to protect potential terrorist targets such as airports and power stations.

Dr Robert Watson and Dr Peter Shepherd, from the university’s department of electronic and electrical engineering, are developing the technology through the Real-value Automated landscape Scanner (ReVeALS) project. The team plans to use multiple sensors and a computer program to provide a security system that gives wider and more responsive CCTV coverage.

‘It’s a wireless sensor network,’ said Watson. ‘It uses technology that has evolved from automotive radar used in adaptive cruise control. Navtech, one of the project partners, makes millimetre radar systems for a variety of uses such as tracking the ground movement of aircraft at airports. We can use these sensors to steer CCTV cameras so they can survey and focus on areas showing suspicious activity.

‘As radar only works in its line of sight you can get blind spots. But by using multiple sensors in a collaborative network these are removed. The system will also use artificial intelligence to learn from the environment and decide what could be considered a threat and what is normal.

‘We are in the very early stages of the project, but this intelligence could be based on a neural network so it would have to go through a simple learning phase. Once this is complete and the technology knows its surroundings it can identify any intruders. If someone was crawling through the grass, for example, it could measure the speed and size of the person, decide if there was a threat and then steer the camera to the area.’

The use of a neural network, which mirrors a biological system by processing information from many nodes, means a learning phase is required. This will require the system to create a radar map of its usual surroundings so any future foreign objects can be identified and investigated.

Although ultimate identification of threats will be up to the person watching the camera feed, the researchers believe the system could make security work easier. In certain situations fewer cameras and staff would be needed to keep a site secure.

‘The radar is not going to completely replace the identification of threats but you won’t need teams of people to look at cameras,’ said Watson. ‘This may be the age of terrorism but we need to be careful not to impede innocent people. This is a system for protecting the public without needing to know too much about them.’

The project was initially started with funding from the former Department for Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme under the theme of Sensors and Imaging for Medical, Security and Environmental Applications and includes e2v as well as Navtech. A previous DTI project helped develop the automotive radar system SLIMSENS (Short and Long Range Integrated Multifunction Radar and Communications Sensors) with e2v.

‘The system could also potentially detect runway debris,’ said Nigel Priestley, e2v’s chief engineer. ‘This would be an improvement on people in a Land rover with binoculars.’

While the main focus of the project is to produce a system capable of protecting sites such as airports and art galleries, the technology could potentially be made accessible for domestic users.

‘A number of small, networked radar systems will provide high performance at a reasonable price,’ said Philip Avery, technical director of Navtech.

‘The ultimate aim is to cut the cost performance so we can hit new markets. At the moment we are aiming for high value sites, but if someone was securing a large house and grounds it’s starting to get towards that price,’ said Shepherd.

‘In principle the work we are doing is generic. If we get the unit cost down to one or two thousand pounds then you get into the realms of large domestic properties. The whole thing is really a scaleable notion. We would like to get the price down to several hundred pounds.’