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Scott Urquhart with the Helios system  (Source: University of Arizona)

Helios system output where red shows a being crossing the cables. The red markings look different as different beings cross the border. In this case, the red represents horses  (Source: University of Arizona)
Could potentially replace current "ineffective" barriers

Researchers at the University of Arizona (UA) have developed an invisible border monitoring system that could be used to supervise the U.S.-Mexico border.

UA researchers involved in the project are Moe Momayez, an associate professor of mining and geological engineering, and Kevin Moffitt, a research scientist at the UA Center for Border Security and Immigration. Working with UA researchers on the project is a geophysical engineering company called Zonge, which is based in Tucson, Arizona. Scott Urquhart is president and senior geophysicist of the company who has been working very closely with UA researchers on the border monitoring system. Furthermore, Zonge has signed a two-year contract with the system's creator, Fotech Solutions, which is a distributor of acoustic data to energy and security sectors. 

The border monitoring system is called Helios, and it is capable of supervising the whole U.S.-Mexico border at a constant rate. The system is made up of laser pulses that are transmitted through fiber-optic cables buried underground. These laser pulses react to movements on the ground above, and a detector at either end of the cable evaluates these reactions. Helios is capable of distinguishing between humans, animals and vehicles. It can also tell if people are walking, running or digging. 

Helios is a distributed acoustic sensor that operates using "optical backscattering." Backscattering is the reflection of particles, signals or waves back to the direction in which they came from. It also has 50-kilometer fiber-optic cable lengths equipped with a detector that can be strung together to stretch across long distances, such as the 1,969 mile U.S.-Mexico border.

"It's all a matter of scale," said Urquhart. "When very small vibrations hit the fiber-optic cables, the cables are slightly distorted. This distortion creates a unique signature change in the laser pulses, which can be detected by the Helios unit."

While the Helios system could be very valuable to the monitoring of the U.S.-Mexico border, this is not new technology. Similar systems have been developed to monitor bridges, dams, pipelines and highways seismic damage or cracks. 

Nonetheless, the technology is well-suited for the project at hand. The UA-Zonge team created a test site in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson, Arizona to see how well the Helios system worked. For instance, a 35-pound dog named Blue was sent across the Helios system, and it barely made a trace on the system, showing that the system will not trigger alarms unnecessarily if the being crossing the cables is not a human. 

The cost to implement the Helios system is unknown at this point since there are rumors that it may be integrated into a larger system with mobile surveillance vehicles. But even if this is true, those working on the Helios project have said the cost of the Helios system would still be lower than the cost of the "ineffective barriers" used today such as disconnected grids of sensors and steel/electric fences. 

As we speak, Fotech is automating the Helios system. The next step is to build a "database of signals" and use advanced pattern-recognition software to automatically analyze events picked up by the system. Zonge is also looking to work with a technical partner that could offer storage and large-scale analyses of the volumes of data that the system will both gather and store. 

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Not near enough
By Ammohunt on 12/14/2010 6:16:27 PM , Rating: 4
Like the article said this is a new spin on an old idea the ARMY used air dropped listening devices in Vietnam. Differnce was that once they were convinced their was enemy activity at the location they would drop a dozen or more Artilliery Shells on the location. Does this system include a few dozen Artillery Batteries as well?

RE: Not near enough
By Skywalker123 on 12/14/2010 6:30:50 PM , Rating: 3
and this will be about as effective as the one in Vietnam.

RE: Not near enough
By Skywalker123 on 12/14/2010 6:34:44 PM , Rating: 2
Artillery is so old school, a system like this will most likely incorporate lasers, or rail guns.

RE: Not near enough
By NicodemusMM on 12/14/2010 6:45:21 PM , Rating: 2
Or maybe something like this...

Use the Helios for detection and warning... a few miles behind Helios the Aegis will make the point in a way that cannot be mistaken. Not as messy as artillery... and maybe even safe for the dog.

RE: Not near enough
By StevoLincolnite on 12/15/2010 2:04:39 AM , Rating: 3
I want one to keep people off my lawn!

RE: Not near enough
By bug77 on 12/15/2010 5:13:32 AM , Rating: 3
Hm, a narrow strip, turrets that fire on their own and which can be upgraded with several weapon systems. Tower defense anyone?

RE: Not near enough
By JakLee on 12/15/2010 6:45:32 PM , Rating: 2
Tesla Coil Towers FTW!

RE: Not near enough
By PrezWeezy on 12/14/2010 8:35:25 PM , Rating: 4
How about sharks with fricking laser beams attached to their heads?

RE: Not near enough
By frobizzle on 12/15/2010 8:16:45 AM , Rating: 2
How about dogs with bees in their mouths?

Homer: Or what? You’ll release the dogs, or the bees, or the dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark they shoot bees at you? Well, go ahead—do your worst!

RE: Not near enough
By marvdmartian on 12/15/2010 8:16:30 AM , Rating: 1
Not in the budget.....but we might be able to swing tuna with rail guns!

RE: Not near enough
By EJ257 on 12/15/2010 8:24:31 AM , Rating: 2
Not nearly enough water nearby. I'm thinking maybe the US Army should take another look at the Johnny 5 project.

RE: Not near enough
By quiksilvr on 12/15/2010 9:48:52 AM , Rating: 2
How about NO? You crazy pre-wheezy bastard!

RE: Not near enough
By PrezWeezy on 12/20/2010 6:49:40 PM , Rating: 2
Throw me a fricken bone!

This is interesting
By BurnItDwn on 12/14/2010 6:47:44 PM , Rating: 3
However, I think the real problem isn't our border security or the people who are immigrating. The real problem is the extremely horrible state of the country of Mexico. Their government is corrupt at every level. Their economy is pretty much stuck in permanent collapse, and it seems like things just keep getting worse for your typical Mexican. I don't claim to know the solution, but, securing the border will likely do very little to help.

RE: This is interesting
By sleepeeg3 on 12/14/2010 8:29:33 PM , Rating: 5
Boo hoo. What are they doing to fix it?

What do you think would happen to the US if we let the 5 billion people living in third world countries immigrate to the US? It would destroy this country. So what makes the people south of our border more deserving than another country?

The US lets in more legal immigrants than any other country in the world. There is a limit, because it takes time to build up our infrastructure and this is what we can sustain. The illegal immigrants are eroding that limit and the country is starting to crumble inward from the pressure of supporting people who aren't paying to support this country and have sworn no loyalty to it. I understand that some of these people are coming from harsh conditions, but instead of staying to support their own countr(y/ies), they are leaving to leech off another. If we continue to let this happen, there will be no United States to support anyone.

RE: This is interesting
By Solandri on 12/15/2010 3:27:19 AM , Rating: 5
Yeah, a lot of people seem to forget that every dissatisfied Mexican who crosses illegally into the U.S. is one fewer dissatisfied Mexican calling for change in the Mexican government. If you want the situation in Mexico to improve, you're gonna need to practice some "tough love" and stem the flow of illegal migrants from there into the U.S. Only then will there be substantial pressure for the Mexican government to clean up its act. Casting a blind eye to illegal migrants from Mexico is indirectly helping the corrupt politicians there stay in power.

If you want to open the borders to illegal migrants from Mexico, but at the same time criticize the corruption there, then the next logical step is for the U.S. to invade Mexico and set up a more legitimate government for them. And I really doubt you want that.

RE: This is interesting
By flatrock on 12/14/2010 8:30:55 PM , Rating: 4
However, I think the real problem isn't our border security or the people who are immigrating. The real problem is the extremely horrible state of the country of Mexico. Their government is corrupt at every level. Their economy is pretty much stuck in permanent collapse, and it seems like things just keep getting worse for your typical Mexican. I don't claim to know the solution, but, securing the border will likely do very little to help.

I have to disagree with you on almost everything. Well I do agree with you that the state of Mexico is a huge problem, but you seem to miss the fact that allowing such a high level of illegal immigration helps sustain that corruption rather than make it better.

Border security is a huge issue for us. We are at war, and our enemies have already struck us successfully on our home soil and have tried again a number of times. We need more effective border security.

Some of the people coming across the border are also unquestionably a serious problem. Drug running and smuggling are funneling vast amounts of money into cartels and corrupt politicians.

As for the state of Mexico itself, illegal immigration and money sent home to Mexico act to releaive some of the pressure on Mexico to fix their problems, and elements of the Mexican government take every chance the get to redirect their people's anger at the rich Americans to the north who don't want to share their good fortune.

Do you really think it is helping Mexico for so many of their more motivated people to pack up and leave the country? We even go to great lengths to welcome many of their brightest people to come here legally. That's generally good for us, but not so good for them.

Securing the border (an extremely difficult task) would cut off a lot of the funding going to cartels and corrupt politicians. It would also take away an option for an awful lot of unhappy Mexicans. Things would likely get ugly. That's something most if not all of us would like to avoid, but it is doubtful there will be meaningful change in Mexico without things getting worse first.

There are no easy answers, but in the end, all we can do is lend a hand. It's the Mexicans that need to change their country.

NAFTA helps, but it is hard for that money to filter down to the common man. Our aid in going after the cartels helps, but not without fincial and human cost.

There are serious limits to how much we can help, and to how much we should interfere.

However, we do have a right to be secure in our own borders, and how much their poor government drains our resources.

So it won't detect dogs.....
By DKantUno on 12/15/2010 12:11:59 AM , Rating: 2
...or children or people walking reeeaallly slowly? Considering it's basically vibration based.

By Skywalker123 on 12/15/2010 2:39:38 AM , Rating: 4
Or Shaolin priests like Kwai Chang Kaine?

RE: So it won't detect dogs.....
By Paj on 12/15/2010 7:14:45 AM , Rating: 2
Seems like it would be pretty easy to fool. Since its done by vibration, you could walk really slowly over it and be fine. What about someone riding a bike?

Mini-guns and minefields
By DigitalFreak on 12/14/10, Rating: 0
RE: Mini-guns and minefields
By ClownPuncher on 12/14/2010 7:15:46 PM , Rating: 5
Something tells me you aren't fond of Mexicans.

RE: Mini-guns and minefields
By spread on 12/15/2010 2:47:18 PM , Rating: 1
Minefields are illegal. If you don't agree with that then maybe you should move to Mexico where they let this kind of thing go on.

RE: Mini-guns and minefields
By Master Kenobi on 12/15/2010 11:16:07 PM , Rating: 1
Minefields are not illegal. The U.S. is the only western country to not sign the land mine ban and that is because we have a metric shit ton of them between north and south korea.

It can run long enough but can it be hardened?
By sparkuss on 12/14/2010 8:43:05 PM , Rating: 2
Just from the synopsis it can cover large distance. But if the criminal elements are willing to dig tunnels to get in, can this thing be hardened in ground and still operate? If it operates as a single long strand, does a single break render it dead?

By sparkuss on 12/14/2010 8:46:27 PM , Rating: 2
Well I guess it might have a chance after all

Urquhart said the Zonge team buried several types of cable at the desert test location. "Each had different properties in terms of flexibility or type of shielding," he said. "The advantage of a Kevlar cable, of course, versus a steel cable, is that the Kevlar cable cannot be found with a metal detector." Nor does digging up the cable and cutting it clean through stop the system working, provided a Helios unit is connected to both ends of the cable, Urquhart said. "We can detect people digging up the cable, and even if they cut it the signal doesn't stop flowing from the cut back to the Helios unit," he said.

The Horse Acadamy
By Kibbles on 12/15/2010 12:11:13 AM , Rating: 2
Helios is capable of distinguishing between humans, animals and vehicles.

So you just need to train people on how to get into a horse suit and gallop like one. Hell, if there aren't any cameras, you can even skip the suit.

RE: The Horse Acadamy
By bodar on 12/15/2010 6:26:31 AM , Rating: 2
Except that horses weigh in the neighborhood of 1000 pounds.

Border Security is only a small part of the issue
By zendude on 12/15/2010 1:50:02 PM , Rating: 2
Our policy with illegal aliens is flawed.

While stopping their entry is important, the fact they are treated as legal residence once they get far enough from the border is a larger issue.

If the Federal Government stop preventing states from ensuring federal laws in this area are enforced, it would ease the problem by making illegal entry into the U.S. less desirable.

Federal Laws exist that require employers to check to see that employees are here legally, but does not have the manpower to enforce it. Attempts by states to ensure the Federal law is enforced is blocked.

Federal Funds are used to provide social services to those here illegally. Some states are even granting Driver's Licenses and State ID cards without any proof of legal residence in the U.S.

Cease these activities and life here will become more difficult for those who enter illegally and they will return home and less will cross here illegally.

I'm all for expanding Legal Immigration, but that would require those entering the US to learn English and our history, which would aid in them becoming contributing members to our society.

By callmeroy on 12/15/2010 3:23:44 PM , Rating: 1
Great post. I agree with you 100%

Shamefully though this view point (the same one I'm spoken or written in past topics about illegal immigration) is the most ignored view point, despite its the best solution.

The whole issue on illegal immigration in this country is mind numbing -- because its so incredibly easy to solve yet our government keeps doing nothing or pro-longing debates over it.....for years and years and years.

I don't care who comes over the borders to live in my country....but to come over and have no standards measured against you, no "requirements" are damn right I have a problem with that....

I really get a kick out of the groups that hold up the signs and do the parades for "equal rights for illegal immigrants"...that boils my blood -- I mean how friggin stupid are some people that live here...

Do people here legally know where the money comes from that pays for the ER visits of illegal immigrants? What about all the social programs they get, despite its supposed to be for LEGAL citizens?

There isn't a magic money fairy that pays for those not being taxed but yet they are using our local / state or federal services.

Then there's also that issue of criminal history and health records...

A true illegal immigrant has no documentation, ie. no "proof of history" at all...

But let's hold pity parties for them and just say "sure come here as you are....we TRUST you won't bring disease or rape, murder, steal from our citizens..."....oh and here's some free money from our government too......

....and a driver's license.......

oh yeah apply for welfare programs too if you "can't" work....

when does the shit end .. when does our country grow a pair?

Combined with Predator?
By Beenthere on 12/14/2010 9:55:41 PM , Rating: 2
If the U.S. uses this system combined with Predator UAVs and Hellfire missiles, then we got a winner. They should also use Predators to deal with Mexican drug trafficers, drug tunnels and drug warlords. We could have some crispy critters in a hurry.

Optical Backscattering
By GeekWithFire on 12/15/2010 9:48:40 AM , Rating: 2
"Optical Backscattering"...if there is an opt-out process, it had darn well better be more painful than the TSA's option. On that note, maybe we just send the TSA down there and let them form their own wall.

Discussions on immigration
By roykahn on 12/16/2010 3:23:47 AM , Rating: 2
It's funny how so many news stories and discussions about illegal immigrants never really explore the cause of it. In Mexico's case, it was mainly the North American Free Trade Agreement, the export of US government subsidized goods to Mexico, and the typical meddling of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. If you don't bother to explore the causes of human misery and suffering, then things are unlikely to improve. Enjoy discussing your band-aid solutions.

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