How AI and tech could strengthen America's border wall

The best approach for border security and immigration control is a layered strategy, experts tell Fox News. This harnesses artificial intelligence, aerial drones, biometrics and other sophisticated technologies in addition to existing or future fencing or walls along U.S. borders.

Dr. Brandon Behlendorf, a noted border security expert and professor at the University of Albany, New York, told Fox News that advancements in technology have made virtual border security much more feasible. Motion sensors, surveillance systems, drone cameras, thermal imaging -- they help form a barrier that is fed into operations centers all across the border.

“[This hinges on] the use of physical and virtual infrastructure, combined with patrol and response capabilities of agents, to provide multiple opportunities for detecting and interdicting illegal border crossings not just at the border, but also some distance from the border,” he said. “You need to leverage the benefits of each with properly trained and outfitted agents to provide the most effective approach to border security.  Neither a wall nor technology itself will suffice.”


One of the most interesting innovations is called the Edgevis Shield, a surveillance platform originally developed for use in Afghanistan. The platform uses ground-based sensors that detect activity, and they are self-healing. The sensors form a mesh network, so if one of them is compromised, the entire network can self-correct and keep functioning. The shield can detect whether someone is moving on foot or in a vehicle; and, it uses a low latency wireless network.

Charles King, principal analyst of the Hayward, Calif.-based tech research firm Pund-IT, says other advancements are helping create a virtual border. Because a physical wall only stops illegal border crossings above ground, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection plans to deploy surveillance robots called Marcbots that can explore tunnels, similar to what the military uses today for bomb detections, he says.

The AVATAR (or Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-time) is a kiosk being developed at San Diego State University. The kiosk uses artificial intelligence to ask questions at a border crossing and can detect physiological changes in expression, voice, and gestures.


For example, the kiosk might ask an immigrant if he or she is carrying any weapons, then look for signs of deception. The kiosk is currently being tested at Canadian border crossings.

Behlendorf says some of the most interesting work related to border patrol is in development at computer labs in the U.S., not at the actual border. Today, there are reams of data from the past that show how illegal immigrants have moved across the border and are then apprehended. This data provides a rich trove for machine learning to look for patterns and even predict likely behavior in the future. It’s more than only tracking or blocking one individual crossing.

“Developments in other fields related to pattern recognition, machine learning, and predictive analytics could greatly enhance the information with which sector and station commanders have to decide on allocations of key resources,” Behlendorf said. “Those efforts are starting to develop, and in my opinion over the next few years will form a cornerstone of virtual fence development.”


One example of this: using analytics data, border patrol agents could determine where to allocate the most resources to augment a physical wall. There’s already a precedent for this, he says. Los Angeles International Airport uses game theory to randomize how security guards go on patrol, rather than relying on the same set pattern that criminals and terrorists could predict.

“The technologies required for supporting a virtual wall, from sensors to surveillance drones to wireless networks and communications to advanced analytics, are more capable and mature today than they have ever been in the past,” said Pund-IT’s King. “The stars are better aligned for the development and deployment of virtual border security today than in the past.”

In the future, border patrols could rely more on a virtual infrastructure -- the technology on the back end that looks for patterns, the facial recognition technology at borders -- for security.

In the end, it’s “all of the above” that will help protect U.S. borders.