Original Business Insider Article:
Tech companies are increasingly bullish on building a “smart wall,” which would incorporate new technologies to beef up security on the southern border.
Many firms see a potential windfall with both Democrats and Republicans floating the idea of tech improvements as an alternative to President Trump‘s call for a steel barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Democrats have said they would back as much as $5.7 billion for a smart wall. Trump himself discussed the idea when announcing the deal to end the recent government shutdown.
“The walls we are building are not medieval walls. They are smart walls designed to meet the needs of frontline border agents,” the president said last Friday. Trump’s critics, though, noted he had first dismissed the idea when it was proposed by Democrats.
The tech and defense industries have long pushed for technology to be a centerpiece of efforts to secure the border. Now they see new momentum for the idea as a bicameral, bipartisan group of lawmakers seek to hash out a border deal to avoid a second shutdown.
“We cannot focus on archaic solutions in order to address this very modern problem,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), one of the conferees, said during the group’s first meeting on Wednesday. “Technology works for securing the border.”
Some of the technologies floated include drones to surveil areas border agents cannot easily see, biometrics to check people entering the U.S. with their IDs, and sensors that detect people moving across the border.
The encouraging atmosphere has companies looking to highlight technologies that could be deployed.
Elbit Systems of America, a U.S.-based subsidiary of top Israeli defense company Elbit Systems, told The Hill it “stands ready” to expand its work at the border. Elbit has worked with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to build “integrated fixed towers” equipped with radars and cameras, along approximately 200 miles of the border in Arizona, and says it is prepared to deploy that equipment in other border states, including Texas and California.
“We’re standing by with the ability to deploy more for border patrol to support their mission, pending the outcomes of some of the discussions that are happening right now by the lawmakers and others,” Gordon Kesting, Elbit Systems of America’s vice president, told The Hill. “We think we’re in a good position to leverage the good work that’s been done to date and do things quickly in response to what might be a sense of urgency around more border security.”
Alex Philp, the founder and chief technology officer of Montana-based company Adelos, Inc., told The Hill his company hopes to inform supportive lawmakers about its product: a fiber optic cable that could alert agents to movements along the border.
Philp told The Hill that Adelos, which is competing for a contract with CBP, has been in communication with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who sits on the border talks committee.
Philp called the company’s home state senator “a big supporter of what we’ve been doing.”
Executives who spoke to The Hill had high hopes for the talks.
Philp said he believes the panel’s lawmakers are finally “energizing smart alternatives to physical barriers.”
Despite the new momentum there are potential roadblocks ahead. Republicans and Democrats are still divided on the need for including new physical barriers on the border, a key demand of Trump.
by Maritsa Georgiou
MISSOULA, Mont. —
The president predicts failure, the house speaker digs her heels in, and we’re 15 days away from another government shutdown over a border wall.
But what if a bipartisan compromise could be found in western Montana? That’s what we found out during our time in Washington, D.C., going Beyond the Podium.
The battle rages on in the fight for border security, but there’s technology 2,200 miles away from our nation’s capital that could be the linchpin in border security negotiations.
“If you went up to our Polson site where we have, frankly, millions invested, you would see an incredible capability that puts us in a class of maybe three companies in the world,” said Adelos, Inc. founder Alex Philp.
Adelos came up with a system that uses lasers and fiber-optic cables the size of a strand of hair to detect even the smallest vibrations in the earth’s surface. It can pick up a whisper.
“It’s so sensitive, we have heard roots in the ground move from wind blowing,” Philp said.
The system scans 12,000 times per second and can work directly with technology like drones. It can detect movement up to almost 1,000 feet away on the surface, nearly 5 miles above the ground and also through water.
For border patrol agents, it removes the element of surprise, which is something Philp has talked to them about numerous times at both the northern and southern borders.
“We’re beyond debating if there’s a need,” Philp said. “Now the question is the right technology at the right price in the right way that reduces risk and provides them something they currently don’t have.”
If you break down the cost compared to $5.7 billion, “We could cover the southern border all the way across and all the way back for less than half,” Philp said.
It’s estimated a physical wall would cost around $25 million per mile. Philp says his technology can be installed for $1 million per mile and probably even less. The government started considering his product 11 years ago.
“We want smart borders. The American public gravitates toward this immediately based on readership. It’s common (sense),” Philp said. “But they don’t understand there’s these massive bureaucratic barriers to implementation.”
That could change quickly. Right now, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is trying to reach a deal or risk facing another shutdown in almost two weeks. On that panel sits Sen. Jon Tester. We asked him directly if he thinks Philp’s technology could hold a bipartisan solution to this ongoing debate.
“I do, as a matter of fact,” Tester told us in an exclusive interview. “I will tell you that I’ve known about the technology that Alex has worked on for 10 years or longer. And we ought to look to those technologies, because as the threat changes — and it will over time — we need to make sure we can change those technologies to defeat those threats.”
Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte are also interested in Philp’s technology but say there also needs to be a physical barrier to go along with it.
“Border patrol agents also told me they need a wall,” Gianforte said on the floor of the House this week. “They know walls work.”
Whether you agree doesn’t really matter, because Phosonic can work on its own and complement other security measures simultaneously.
“I believe we are one part of an overall solution,” Philp said.
S&K Technologies bought Adelos, Inc. in 2009.
“We’re the only U.S. company — in this case we’re Native American owned — that has a solution to the problem. We’re competing internationally,” Philp told NBC Montana.
And it’s not just border security.
“It doesn’t have to be just defense, and it doesn’t have to be just homeland,” Philp said. “We could be using it to monitor our water infrastructure. We could be using it to measure traffic on the streets. It can actually be the future for how we protect pipelines. I see a huge market for literally wiring the cities of the future.”
For now, it’s back to that fight in Washington. The committee has two weeks to get something through Congress and signed by the president. Philp is passionate about his company’s technology and hopes the bipartisan committee and the president will consider this cyber wall — if not on its own, in addition to a physical one.
As you can imagine, Philp is watching what’s happening in Washington very closely. If Phosonic gets the green light, it could mean up to 60 jobs in western Montana alone and a big boost for our technological reputation.