Beyond SBInet with SightLogix's John Romanowich

Thoughts on why SBInet faced technical challenges and why technology shouldn't be overhyped


On the ISC West 2010 show floor, I had the chance to catch up with John Romanowich, the president and CEO of outdoor video and analytics company SightLogix. The company's solutions are known for long-range vision in outdoor environments; they've been strongly adopted by ports. SightLogix's solutions employ object recognition and tracking analytics for automated detection, as well as an advanced camera motion nullification algorithm (slight movements/vibrations on cameras are even more noticeable when you're focused in on a scene up to a mile away). After checking out Romanowich's technology, I couldn't help but thinking that this technology would have been well applied to the "Secure Border Initiative", a.k.a., SBInet. Of course, just last week, DHS Secretary Napolitano announced that she was freezing funding for SBInet and would look to replace the failed Boeing project with more commercial available technologies, just the kind of technologies you might find displayed on the show floors of ISC West or the annual ASIS International exhibits. I asked Romanowich to share his thoughts on the failed SBInet program, and here's what he had to say:

"I predicted the failure of SBInet, actually. One of the challenges is that while ground-based radar [a technology used in SBInet] is great for wide-open, level areas like airport tarmacs, it's not right for that border environment, where you might have tall bushes and uneven terrain. The system was also creating way too many nuisance alarms. Actually, one of the bidding teams for SBInet came to us and wanted us to do this kind of detection [of unauthorized border crossings] at five miles and we told them, "We can't do it; we're bound by the laws of physics, so you'll have to find some other company that isn't bound by the laws of physics." They are trying too long of a range for detecting persons; it was just beyond the fundamental laws of physics."

I then asked Romanowich what he might have done differently, and he said he would take a no-nonsense approach and use less expensive technology that's positioned closer together rather than doing towers at great distances. Here's what he might do if he could architect a virtual border detection "fence" for SBInet:

"I would take small mobile towers with 30 foot masts and battery back-up, and use them every kilometer or every couple of kilometers. They would have video detection capabilities, and we would do it for a fraction of the cost. It certainly wouldn't be millions of dollars per mile like the SBInet project was costing. By going mobile, you can roll a new tower unit out as needed if a unit fails in that desert environment. "

Romanowich said the company, while it feels that it has great technology, is careful not to overhype the solutions or sell the solutions beyond what it can consistently detect without creating a mass of false alerts. He says that cautious approach has worked well for the firm and he says that good use of technology creates accountability for security responders.

"At the end of the day, you can automate video security and create accountability in outdoor video. Once you stop getting nuisance alarms, security can be accountable, because they then know better what they should and must respond to."