Embedding Security at the Border Checkpoint

How embedded computing solutions are critical for border security.

Border security is an important topic these days, and many countries are leveraging technology to improve effectiveness and at the same time reduce inconvenience for travelers. This article includes a brief overview of the current state of applications, focusing on land border checkpoints (Figure 1) and the drivers for increased deployment of technology. It also outlines the attributes that are critical relative to the embedded computing solutions used to address those applications. It concludes with examples of Intel® processor-based embedded solutions with particular relevance to border checkpoint applications.

There is a constant tension between maximizing security and minimizing traveler inconvenience. Increasing international travel puts even more stress on our systems. A 2016 study by Visa Inc. estimated that the number of households taking at least one international trip would increase by 35 percent between 2015 and 2025. This represents a tremendous increase in the number of travelers who need to be screened.

Border security technology has evolved significantly since the events of September 11, 2001 and the need to tighten security at airports.

Figure 1: A typical vehicle lane at a land border crossing (iStock.com/Jorge Villalba)

Land border crossings add the movement of private cars as well as commercial trucks into the mix. Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) technology has been deployed in both in-bound and outbound lanes at several US land border checkpoints. ALPR allows vehicles license plates to be automatically checked against law enforcement databases for outstanding warrants or other alerts. A Govtech Works article quoted Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as saying it can achieve 55 vehicles per lane per hour versus 46.5 per lane per hour for lanes without ALPR. This technology is also used to read truck license plates and match the truck with a manifest that has been pre-filed with CBP, again speeding processing. Over the years the technology has been enhanced. For example, upgrades have included using higher resolution day and night cameras, incorporating RFID technology to automatically identify trusted travelers, and adoption of machine learning/AI techniques to improve character recognition. This brings us to the attributes of the embedded computing solution.

Performance and Future Proofing
Performance is the first thing that comes to mind, not just that of the processor, but also that of the interface to peripherals. Earlier implementations of ALPR technology could exist on embedded solutions featuring single core processors with sub-500 MHz clocks, 256 MB of memory, and 100BaseT Ethernet ports. Now, solutions with multicore processors such as Intel’s 7th generation Core™ i7, featuring internal GPU capability, are required to cater for current needs and to provide a degree of future-proofing. These upgrades are required to allow for use of the latest operating systems as well as to handle the application load. Expanded memory capability, which supports 8 or 16 GB of RAM, enables higher camera resolutions and better algorithms to decode what is being seen. The desire to increase camera resolution, frame rate, and field of view has necessitated Ethernet connectivity at gigabit speeds.

Temperature range is also a critical requirement. Border crossings exist from the deep chill of the Arctic Circle to the sweltering heat of equatorial countries. This drives the need for embedded computing solutions to work over the full industrial temperature range of -40◦C to +85◦C.

Reliability is of course critical as well. The consequence of a system going down is manual screening that leads to long lines, long waits, and reduced accuracy in checking license plate records.

For performance and reliability, even at temperature extremes, one embedded computer supplier has been filling the bill in border security applications for more than 10 years. VersaLogic Corp has seen four generations of its products leveraged for increasingly more powerful border security systems.

The company’s experience started with its Puma single board computer (SBC) in 2008. It featured a processor running at 366 MHz, 256 MB of RAM, and a single 100BaseT Ethernet.

This was replaced by another PC/104 embedded computer, the Ocelot, which was introduced in 2009 and phased out in 2016. It featured an Intel Atom® Z530P processor at 1.6 GHz, up to 2 GB RAM, and a gigabit Ethernet port (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Ocelot. PC/104 form factor featuring gigabit Ethernet port (top right)

The Bengal, which was introduced in 2015, took the PC/104 form-factor up in performance using an Intel Atom E3845 quad-core processor with 1.9 GHz clock, up to 8 GB of RAM, and dual gigabit Ethernet ports (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Bengal  PC/104 quad core embedded computer with dual gigabit Ethernet ports via rugged latching connectors

For emerging security requirements, such as facial recognition and cyber security threat management, the Lion was introduced in 2017. It includes a seventh generation Intel Core i7 running at 2.8 GHz, integral GPU, up to 16 GB of RAM, dual gigabit Ethernet ports, USB 3.0, and an on-board TPM 2.0 security chip (Figure 4).


Figure 4: Lion. The mini-PCIe socket enables various types of expansion including Wi-Fi. Inserting a dual Ethernet card can support a total of four gigabit Ethernet ports.

In summary, the application of technology at checkpoints is a major contribution to border security and requires embedded computing solutions that not only keep pace, but also provide a transition to future platforms so that the application can evolve. The products illustrated are examples of one company’s success at utilizing Intel technology to satisfy the need for high reliability, increasing performance, and simplified migration from one generation to the next.


Bob Buxton brings more than twenty years of experience in both R&D and product management roles. He has worked within, and has provided products to, the mil/aero segment. His R&D experiences have been primarily in connection with radar and microwave sub-system design.

He is currently working in product management at VersaLogic Corporation, a leading provider of embedded computers which are designed for the most demanding applications. VersaLogic is located in Tualatin, Oregon.

Buxton holds a master’s degree in Microwaves and Modern Optics from University College, London and an MBA from George Fox University, Newberg Oregon. He is a Chartered Engineer and a Member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

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