DEL RIO, Tex. — In this tiny town at the edge of South Texas brush country, a black steel fence runs along the Mexican border. About 15 feet high and topped by small metal spires that bend toward Mexico, it stretches west from a Border Patrol checkpoint for about a mile and a half. Then it stops.
Where the fence ends, a creek snakes off the Rio Grande, up through a private ranch where cattle wander between the mesquite trees. There, beside the creek gully, a small black cylinder sits atop a metal pole, looming over the small trees. It is a lidar sensor, the same laser-based technology that gives sight to self-driving cars. From its perch, it captures a three-dimensional image of anyone who walks into the area.
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