Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Electrical Engineering


Electrical Engineering


John Oliver


Each year, thousands of cargo containers are broken into during shipping, costing billions of dollars in lost and damaged goods. In addition to removing its contents, intruders can also add unwanted and dangerous materials to a container, posing a threat to National Security. The possibilities of cargo container break-ins require that the containers go through check points at which they are physically searched. These searches often require the opening of the container, unloading and inspecting all cargo, and then loading the container and resealing it. This is a long and costly process.

Because of the high costs of break-ins and inspections, many security devices have been developed to ensure the safety and detect the tampering of cargo containers. Most of these mechanisms involve more intricate door locks and electronic seals that are able to add a degree of security to the containers. Other “smart” cargo security devices exist, which employ a variety of sensors to detect intrusion, however, none of the current solutions are reliable and practical enough to eliminate the necessity for frequent inspection of cargo containers. The shipping industry is in need of a reliable, unobtrusive, low-cost, low-effort cargo security device.

Over the last two decades, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has been developing a micropower impulse radar capable of detecting objects and motion within a short to medium range. Due to its past uses for intrusion and motion detection, the LLNL micropower impulse radar is a top prospect for a sensor technology used in a cargo security device.

This paper describes the design of a low-power, low-cost cargo security device which uses the LLNL micropower impulse radar for the detection of shipping container intrusions. With the evaluation of the impulse radar as well as various other sensors, a device was created which successfully detected intrusions over 98% of the time with the capability of lasting 5 to 6 months when powered by two AA batteries.