Fog Chamber to Boost Security Capabilities

Friday, June 19, 2015 @ 11:06 AM gHale

Fog can play a key role in cloaking actions of intruders. That’s why physical security experts seek to overcome fog, but it’s difficult to field test security cameras, sensors or other equipment.

“Fog is difficult to work with because it rarely shows up when needed, it never seems to stay around long enough once you’re ready to test and its density can vary during testing,” said Rich Contreras, a systems engineer at Sandia National Laboratories.

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That’s why Contreras and others developed a controlled-fog environment for sensor testing. The sunny, high desert of New Mexico may seem an unlikely place to make fog, but Sandia National Laboratory developed a fog chamber — one of the world’s largest — that meets the needs of the military, other government agencies and industry. The chamber is in a tunnel owned by the Air Force Research Laboratory.

“The ultimate goal of this whole endeavor is to defeat fog,” Contreras said. “From physical security and force protection aspects, as scientists and engineers who care about national security, we want to be able to make it so that a security force person at a site has the ability to maintain uninterrupted situational awareness.”

Researchers said the chamber will help develop and validate cameras’ and sensors’ abilities to penetrate fog, knowledge that could lead to improved surveillance at sites. The chamber also could end up used to answer fundamental optics questions, which in time could lead to improved security camera lenses and medical imaging equipment, safer aircraft landings and better vision for drivers in fog.

“People need to see through fog,” said optical scientist Gabe Birch. “So much of the U.S. population is on the coastlines in places where fog exists. If you could discover an inexpensive technique to see better through it, there are a lot of people in industry who would be interested in that.”

Sandia’s fog chamber is 180 feet long, 10 feet tall and 11 feet wide. Air curtains and rubber baffles enclose the chamber to entrap the fog, approximating real-world conditions. Tunnel walls have a special black paint to reduce reflection and improve data quality, Contreras said.

Sandia researchers use cloud microphysics to generate fog for video analytics, environmental testing and new sensor development. Currently, the chamber’s fog resembles that found in coastal regions, but output can end up customized to produce fog physically similar to that found in any location, said Crystal Glen, an aerosol scientist. Researchers eventually hope to add smoke and dust to the chamber’s repertoire.