THE MAGAZINE

Shedding Light on Nighttime Surveillance

By Laura Spadanuta

Continuous Wave Lasers

A fairly new alternative in night vision is a nonpulsing laser system. One option comes from Atlanta, Georgia-based Vumii Inc.’s continuous wave near-infrared laser camera system, the Discoverii. It is an active illumination system, but instead of using LED illumination, the Vumii device projects a continuous wave laser that does not pulse.

Some of the traditional laser options for nighttime surveillance are either very weak lasers or extremely strong, expensive range-gated systems that necessitate pulsing lasers, according to Vumii’s president, Randall Foster. Foster says Vumii’s cofounder, Micky Tamir, was one of the developers of range-gated laser systems several years ago.

“One of the unique breakthroughs is our ability to spread this energy uniformly in an area and then control that cone by its diameter, its intensity, and its focus,” explains Foster. Basically, this makes it possible to direct the laser light to exactly the area the camera needs to capture. The laser is essentially acting as the light source for traditional CCTV video, much like the LED illumination acts as a light source.

The major advantage that Discoverii has over LED illumination is that it can capture a picture with sufficient detail to enable identification of intruders over a greater distance. Ian Francisco is an integrator and CEO of Unlimited Technology, Inc., which recently entered into a strategic partnership with Vumii after using its camera units in various projects, such as critical infrastructure. He says the model that has the longest range, called the Discoverii 3000, can provide identifiable-quality video in the dark at a range of almost 9,000 feet. “There’s not another camera on the market that will even touch it,” he says.

Independent consultant Jones agrees, saying, “Vumii’s Discoverii has extraordinary range and is an important technology for areas such as critical assets, stakeouts, and border protection.” She notes that “Extreme CCTV is useful for outdoor protection but used in areas that don’t require the range Vumii offers.” 

Foster says Discoverii units, which include a camera and a laser enclosure, are often matched up with another system, such as thermal imaging, which can detect movement. Once the first system detects movement, Discoverii can zoom in and concentrate its lasers on the area that needs closer attention.

A disadvantage to Vumii’s system is that it is quite expensive. Foster says the Discoverii 1000 unit, which has the shortest range, retails for about $58,000, while the longest range model runs about $125,000.

However, Terry Lyons, who works in security for Aqua America, a water utility group, says that he has actually saved money with Vumii. He has installed Vu-mii’s Discoverii cameras at dams, reservoirs, and other locations, and says one Vumii camera can replace up to five other cameras. Additionally, the setup doesn’t need any type of light or multiple camera infrastructure. Lyons says he was using infrared imagers before, but the quality of the video was not good enough.

Although Vumii’s laser is less powerful than range-gated lasers and does not need to be on a pulse, it is still a laser and does come with safety precautions. The laser system is filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health as a Class 1 system, says Foster. Class 1 is the safest level.

Vumii’s lasers have an eye safety range of about 50 feet, says Foster, which means that someone looking into the beam at this short range could have retinal damage. The units have specific installation heights. Sensors detect if anything is coming within the safety range and turn the lasers off if needed, and the unit also has locks that don’t allow it to turn too far down and break the safety range.

One of the cameras used in Lyons’ applications is near a highway, he says. In that instance, there are settings that prevent the camera from sending lasers into oncoming traffic.

Vumii is coming out with a new 500-meter model, according to Foster, which will not have safety-range issues due to the lower power of the laser. It will have a more economical price and will be geared toward mobile use, such as on low-flying aircraft.

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