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Sensor-Makers See Rising Homeland Demand

by Brendan McGarry on June 19, 2013

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PARIS — Even as they showcased a sensor that can spot a gunman from more than six miles away, officials from a unit of L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. said they’re seeing rising demand for non-defense applications.

Like catching speeders.

Spain recently deployed the first of a planned several MX-series imaging systems made by Wescam, part of New York-based L-3. The device, which houses multiple thermal imaging and electro-optical sensors, was installed beneath a helicopter that flew over the capital of Madrid on a law-enforcement mission to track speeding motorists on the highways.

Some 250 drivers were nabbed in a short time and traffic fatalities plunged almost 30 percent, according to Bill Swindall, director of international sales for the Westcam unit.

“We didn’t know it’d be used to measure speed and give out traffic tickets,” he said during an interview in the company’s booth at the Paris Air Show.

L-3 Wescam, based in Burlington, Ontario, in Canada, competes against companies such as Raytheon Co., based in Waltham, Mass., and FLIR Systems Inc., based in Wilsonville, Ore.

The companies offer technology with increasingly better image stability and long-range detection. In addition to the gunman, L-3’s showed crisp, grayscale video of a cat crossing the street several miles away.

“Because you have the infrared and see stuff the eyeballs can’t, it’s very easy to find,” Swindall said.

The company displayed versions of its new MX-25 imaging system, the biggest product in the series, nicknamed “grandpa bear.”

The MX-25 designed for airborne applications can be affixed to planes, helicopters, blimps and standing structures, while the hardier model built for ground missions can be installed on ground vehicles such as tanks and trucks. During testing, it was dropped to the ground from a height of several feet and still functioned flawlessly, officials said.

The systems range in size and cost, from $300,000 to $2 million, and can be used for everything from monitoring borders and wildfires to now catching speeders. The company has sold about 1,000 of the devices to several dozen countries.

“There’s a huge international market for it,” Swindall said.

L-3 is also poised to announce the first sale of the new MX-25 unit to a U.S. customer, officials said.

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