Back in December 2005, there were Congressional hearings on the border surveillance system. The system was based on using sensors and cameras to create a virtual fence along the border. The hearings were titled, “Mismanagement of the Border Surveillance System and Lessons for the New Secure Border Initiative.” The next year, Boeing won a contract with the potential value of $2.5 billion to fix these problems. However, they didn’t fix them and frankly it’s funny and appalling when you read the evaluations of the project from the Government Accountability Office. The problems were so juicy that a 60 Minutes covered the failures.
This month, after spending a billion dollars, the government is now abandoning the project. Without going into the inept behavior by the government and contractors, lets focus on the impact of this story on video surveillance.
As expensive as this failure is, it won’t be noticed by the general public. People like to see successes and can shake off failures for fields that are considered emerging technologies (It’s ok to that your smart phone has a glitch, but not for your car). In fact, this saga has generated little public outcry, even after the 60 Minutes story.
I think the impact is on future large scale projects using smart cameras systems. This failure will be used to draw doubts about the success of another similar project. I think this is fair. While some of the problems were due to the contractors' conduct, there were also fundamental problems in deploying the smart cameras into the field. I think this story should give us all a little pause in our enthusiasm. What works in a lab setting doesn’t necessarily work in the real world.
Finally, I think this failure gives Boeing a black eye. From my vantage, they were given a chance to become a preeminent leader with a high profile project. Now they will only hear the snickers of their competition on how they blew it.