Acoustic surveillance for border, critical infrastructure security

Published 22 April 2010

A Montana company offers a new way to secure U.S. borders and critical infrastructure facilities: TerraEchos teams up with IBM to embed new IBM technology into a system of fiber-optic sensors; the sensors are capable of gathering real-time acoustic information, alerting of a possible security breach in remote and often unmanned areas

A small Missoula, Montana, developer of covert intelligence and surveillance systems made a splash Wednesday by announcing a landmark agreement with IBM, one that could shape the way organizations protect and monitor critical infrastructure.

The deal, signed between TerraEchos of Missoula and IBM, could also alter the way the United States secures its inland borders, including the 550-plus miles between Montana and Canada.

Alex Philp, president and CEO of TerraEchos, said the agreement allows his company to embed new IBM technology into a system of fiber-optic sensors. Known as the Adelos S4 system, the sensors are capable of gathering real-time acoustic information, alerting of a possible security breach in remote and often unmanned areas.

“We signed an agreement with IBM to take their technology and embed it into our fiber-optic sensor,” Philp said Wednesday. “You take fiber optics with a powerful piece of software, and we think we’ve come up with a world-class sensor.”

Martin J. Kidston writes in the Helena Independent Record that the partnership with IBM, reported by the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch on Wednesday, will enable security firms, including DHS, to process around 1,600 megabytes of motion data per second gathered by TerraEchos’ fiber-optic sensor.

The effort to develop the sensor began three years ago at GSC Research in Missoula, which licensed the fiber-optics system with the U.S. Navy. The company then set out to improve the system and use it to produce a commercially viable product.

Philp said TerraEchos was formed around that effort, and on Wednesday the company scored its biggest deal by partnering with IBM. “It’s pretty good for a little company in Montana to pull this off,” Philp said. “The license agreement with IBM is a function of exposure, which we’re trying to get. We’re small, but we’ve got some good partners. There’s innovation going on in Montana.”

Philp described his company’s Adelos S4 technology as a fiber-optics sensor that’s buried under ground or submerged under water. The data picked up by the sensor can be analyzed by matching the sound patterns against a complex equation to determine what’s making the noise.

The technology is capable of gathering real-time information in such large volumes that processing the data once seemed impossible.

Kidston quotes Philp to say that this is where IBM’s new InfoStream system comes into play. The software can instantly identify, distinguish and classify a variety of objects in motion detected by the fiber-optics cable, whether it’s a man walking or a deer grazing.

“The big markets remain perimeter security, strategic border security and critical infrastructure,” Philp said, naming dams and oil pipelines as possible uses. “We want to bring this technology to meet homeland, national and private security needs.”

For example, Philp said, the system could be used to monitor the security and performance of an oil pipeline. To do so, a company could bury the sensors at strategic locations throughout the pipeline corridor.

The sensor would then capture and analyze complex sound patterns made by a number of activities, including a security breach or a problem with the pipe itself, such as a change in flow. “Within seconds, the pipeline operator would be alerted to the problem, the potential cause and where along the miles of pipeline it was located,” Philp said. “Our licensing agreement with IBM is a key milestone in transitioning this sensor technology for commercial purposes.”