Automate Aerial Border Patrol with AI and Predictive Analytics

The valley below Millers Peak, Arizona - a common area for cross-border drug smuggling and illegal border crossings

In last week’s article on UAVs for Border Patrol, we discussed how re-thinking UAV deployment with smaller, lower-cost aerial systems can greatly improve a border patrol agency’s ability to visually monitor their border from the skies. This week, we’re examining how situating this UAV technology in a greater workflow for aerial data, that incorporates AI and predictive analytics, can help you distill the immense amount of aerial border imagery into actionable data points.

True Automation of Border Surveillance.

While a UAV sources images of incredible resolution along your border, imagery is not data in of itself. Pinpointing signs or active instances of illegal activity requires analysis, and with thousands of images coming in at a regular cadence, what’s supposed to be a surveillance asset can quickly become a burden for your team. This is where AI comes in, taking on the analysis workload to ensure the only task left to your team is translating key insights into action.

As mentioned in last week’s article, through an open-API portal, time-stamped and geo-referenced UAV imagery can smoothly integrate with your agency’s existing data management systems – such as the Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK). The same goes for these AI-driven insights, which ultimately expedite the data delivery process. From their phones, your agents can now receive accurate map coordinates of illegal activity, a basic summary of the suspected issue, along with high-resolution time-stamped and geo-referenced imagery of the scene.

How Does AI Hone-in On Drug Smuggling and Border Crossing?

Utilizing neural networks that mimic our brain’s visual cortex, the part that processes and makes sense of what we see, AI excels in visual perception tasks. In addition to simple object/anomaly detection, AI can leverage new and historical datasets for change detection analysis between inspections. With this capability, you can provide field agents with positive sign leads for investigation:

  • New Threats and Unauthorized Crossing Locations: From January to April 2020, the US border patrol has already seized hundreds of thousands of pounds of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and fentanyl in cross-border smuggling attempts.1 With the advent of the US-Mexico border wall, determined actors like drug cartels will turn to alternative methods to smuggle their wares, such as subterranean tunneling. Through change detection from inspection-to-inspection, AI can recognize the signs of a tunneling operation, such as a growing mound of discarded dirt or human digging activity, and flag it accordingly.
  • Active Crossings: Since the beginning of 2020, over 100,000 apprehensions have taken place along the Southwestern US border alone.2 Despite these numbers, plenty of people make it over People will try to cross borders on-foot or in vehicles such as cars, boats, and even ultralight aircraft. AI can identify persons or vehicles during an inspection, categorize them accordingly, and send your team real-time updates on their locations.
  • Sign-Cutting: Oftentimes, locating illegal border crossers begins with recognizing the physical evidence of their passing. In the field, agents tend to look for footprints, discarded trash, bits of clothing, or disturbed earth or vegetation from a large group. Instead of an on-foot agent, you can identify many of these signs remotely from the sky. UAVs provide incredible resolution imagery, and with detail down to the inch, these physical disturbances will be visually apparent. AI can then analyze the images for anomalies of this nature and flag them for final verification by an agency’s experienced trackers. By lining out the sign imagery, the central command can deploy agents or even another UAV to catch the suspects at a likely interception point.
  • Interference with Border Infrastructure: Knowing how crossers are getting through your barriers to entry is an important point of data. Through analysis of high-resolution imagery, AI can identify evidence of cutting, climbing tools, or other signs of a breach – without having to send an agent directly on-site for the task.

Leveraging Predictive Insights for Smarter Deployment

Every one of these anomalies – be it detection of a person crossing the border or a sensor reading that’s been verified by evidence of human traffic – are all critical points of data to your border patrol efforts. Through comparison of new and historical records, an aerial data platform can unlock predictive analytics that helps you better target deployment of personnel and resources to high-value areas along your border.

Over time, as you log and record instances of illegal border activity, a predictive model can utilize these data points to identify hotspot areas of activity:

  • The geographic locations where crossings more commonly occur
  • How crossing activity trends seasonally throughout the year
  • Anticipations of increases/decreases of future traffic based on comparative analysis of new and historical data.

The sheer scale of a border patrol operation means misplaced efforts come at a substantial opportunity and economic cost. Through the power of predictive analytics, you can determine where your agents and field assets – such as sensors and cameras – stand to make the greatest impact.

Get Ahead of Illegal Activity Along Your Border

With the ability to autonomously source, analyze, and report actionable data – an aerial workflow gets you the data you need to understand and tackle illegal activity along your border. Instead of operating from a reactive stance, you can utilize insights from predictive analytics to deploy field resources and personnel in a way that gets you in front of future issues. Run a smarter operation that makes far better use of your agent’s valuable time and effort, while putting agent safety at the forefront with strategic use of unmanned aerial vehicles as real-time monitoring tools in the field.

Have questions about how high-quality aerial data can elevate your organization?
Contact our team to discuss your unique challenges and data requirements.


  1. CBP Enforcement Statistics Fiscal Year 2020 U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2020
  2. Southwest Border Migration FY 2020, U.S Customs and Border Protection, 2020