Researchers Develop a Smart Fence

Nicholas notes that placing more sensitive detectors on fence posts rather than on just the wire, for example, would probably lead to a system that could detect trespassers as they approach the fence. Nicholas says that tests of the prototype system have already pointed to such potential capabilities. "If you walked along the fence, it would pick up the footsteps," he said. "Thus far, the capabilities seem to be quite good."

So Simple — And Cheap

More importantly, both Swanson and Nicholas note that this system — now patented by Penn State — is ideal for expansive installations such as military bases and airports because of its simplicity.

The material used to build the prototype fence monitor at Penn State, for example, came from an ordinary hardware store. A standard personal computer with a sound card and Microsoft's Windows software is all that's required to run the special vibration analyzing software.

Such simplicity also helps keep costs reasonable. By Nicholas' estimations, retrofitting existing chain link fences with the new monitoring system would cost about one dollar per linear foot of fencing.

Nicholas says the research team is on track to begin the "engineering development" phase, which will further refine the software to make it easier to install and use at different sites. When that work is completed, he says the University will seek a business partner to make the system commercially available, perhaps as soon as next year.

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