Navy Robocopters Hunt Down Pirates
April 9, 2012 5:14 PM
(Source: Walt Disney)
"Get me to the chopper!" -- new UAVs combined LADAR, infrared and traditional HD imaging
The U.S. Navy's
is armed to the teeth with the latest in
high-tech surveillance gadgets
. Equipped with a Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS) -- a package of HD cameras, mid-range infrared sensors and LADAR; a 3D mapping device that utilizes a long-range, high-res, eye-safe laser -- the robocopter, christened "Fire Scout", will patrol the high seas hunting for pirates.
Piracy has increasingly become a headache for industrialized nations -- and a chief priority for the
. The problem is that pirates typically pirate small, hard-to-detect ships, but have created huge disruptions hijacking fuel tankers and other pricey cargo in hopes of a ransom.
Many of the pirates come from impoverished regions like Somalia, which border shipping lanes from the Middle East.
The new copter is a possible solution, cooked up by the
Office of Naval Research
Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department
Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division
Ken Heeke, ONR NAWWD program officer describes Fire Scout, stating, "Sailors who control robotic systems can become overloaded with data, often sifting through hours of streaming video searching for a single ship. The automatic target recognition software gives Fire Scout the ability to distinguish target boats in congested coastal waters using LADAR, and it sends that information to human operators, who can then analyze those vessels in a 3-D picture."
LADAR in action -- step 1, ship is spotted by system. [Image Source: Utah State Univ.]
LADAR in action -- step 2, the algorithms spot the ship in 3D. [Image Source: Utah State Univ.]
Dean Cook, principal investigator at the ONR NAWCWD adds, "The 3-D data gives you a leg up on target identification. Infrared and visible cameras produce 2-D pictures, and objects in them can be difficult to automatically identify. With LADAR data, each pixel corresponds to a 3-D point in space, so the automatic target recognition algorithm can calculate the dimensions of an object and compare them to those in a database."
The LADAR system is being
[PDF] in collaboration with
Utah State University
, a key academic partner.
More work has to be done testing-wise before this super-copter can get down to business battling the pirate masses. The algorithms have been tested by land-based systems
naval vessels, but the first air-to-naval tests will be conducted with a BRITE Star II turret aboard a larger manned helicopter.
If those tests go well, Fire Scout should be almost ready to take to the air, and pirates ought to be shaking in their boots.
Aside from pirates, the U.S. Navy is looking to use drone scouts for a variety of other
advanced sea warfare purposes
ONR [press release]
Utah State [LADAR PDF]
"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet. A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis
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