Guard duty

Each Netbotz 500 unit has three components: a base station, a camera and an environmental sensor unit.

The video camera of a unit standing guard over equipment is activated only when something happens.

Each Netbotz will be locally monitored using an intelligent edge appliance with the power of a small notebook computer

Army command sends remote sentries to watch over assets

Global deployment of U.S. troops in the last three years has put heavy materiel demands on the Army Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.

It's up to the command to see that Army materiel ends up in the same place as Army personnel. The command, headquartered at Fort Eustis, Va., oversees the shipment of millions of tons of equipment and supplies each year.
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Remote-sensing technology is keeping watch over the goods awaiting shipment, said Rose DuBose, the command's senior IT adviser for North and South America.

'After Sept. 11, 2001, we started activating a lot of reserve units,' DuBose said. Their equipment is shipped from commercial ports, where the command sets up temporary facilities for 30 to 90 days. It currently is operating in Corpus Christi, Texas; Jacksonville, Fla.; Philadelphia; San Diego; and Savannah, Ga.

'When equipment comes in, we don't warehouse it,' DuBose said. It goes straight onto the pier, where it might wait two or three days before being loaded onto ships.

'I want to reduce that time,' she said. 'But while it's sitting out there on the pier, I'm concerned about the warfighters' equipment,' which includes everything from boots and food to Humvees and rocket launchers.

To secure the materiel at temporary facilities, the command bought five NetBotz 500 security systems from NetBotz Inc. of Austin, Texas. Three of the systems will be mobile and travel with the command's rapid deployment equipment to new ports.

'We seem to be operating at three to five ports simultaneously,' DuBose said. 'We will use [NetBotz systems] to build a virtual perimeter, so they can stand guard.'

The other two units will be permanently installed at command headquarters to monitor IT and communications systems.

'They are the exact applications we designed for,' NetBotz chief technology officer Mitch Medford said. The NetBotz line automates visual and environmental monitoring of physical environments and has a Web interface for tracking observations.

The NetBotz products, introduced in 2000, secures physical IT infrastructures such as wiring closets, server rooms and data centers. About 80 percent of the installed systems still do those jobs but, Medford said, 'more and more are a pure surveillance role' similar to the Army's use.

The small, mobile systems lend themselves to ad hoc physical security for short periods. The Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab used NetBotz for physical security during a recent virtual mission operations experiment at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The site housed hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of Army equipment for the one-month tests.
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NetBotz 500 has three components: an intelligent edge appliance that serves as a base station, a camera and an environmental sensor unit. The camera and sensors can be docked to the base station or connected by USB cables from as far as 340 feet away.

The base station's USB ports accommodate up to three more cameras and 16 more sensor units.

The base station connects through a wired 10/100-Mbps Ethernet port or an IEEE 802.11x wireless link.

'The edge appliance has the power of a small notebook computer,' Medford said. It contains a Web server so the administrator can manage the system and monitor the visual feed and environmental conditions.

The sensor unit measures temperature, humidity, dew point, airflow, sound and motion. Its ports accept additional external sensors. Camera resolution goes up to 1,280 by 1,024 pixels with frame rates up to 30 per second and varying levels of compression.

The camera activates when a programmed event occurs, such as a door opening, or when sensor data reaches a threshold, such as a high temperature. It alerts administrators or security personnel.

'It takes video only when something interesting occurs,' Medford said. 'The intelligence in the edge device is pretty sophisticated.' It can be set to monitor 30 alarm parameters and to react not only to current conditions but also to rate and duration of changes.

The Army command tested two of the systems for 90 days in IT, power and communications settings before ordering five NetBotz units, DuBose said.

'It worked wonderfully,' she said. 'It does not record anything until the designated area has been entered.'

DuBose called the headquarters tests strenuous. 'Murphy's Law has permanent residence here,' she said.

The command will install the internal NetBotz 500s on a wired network and the field systems on wireless links. The internal systems will be monitored by NetBotz's central management platform, consolidating communication and policy settings. The field units will be monitored locally.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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