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  (Source: Walt Disney)
"Get me to the chopper!" -- new UAVs combined LADAR, infrared and traditional HD imaging

The U.S. Navy's new robocopter 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 U.S. Navy.  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's Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department (NAWWD) and Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) branches.  

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
LADAR in action -- step 1, ship is spotted by system. [Image Source: Utah State Univ.]

LADAR demo 2
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 developed [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 targeting 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.

Sources: ONR [press release], Utah State [LADAR PDF]



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RE: Peace and prosperity, aka a job!
By ritualm on 4/10/2012 5:48:13 PM , Rating: 2
A decline in naval piracy? When being a waterborne threat is many factors more profitable than what the average Somali job pays a year, good luck with that.

Whoever that wrote the NYT article is smoking magical dust.


RE: Peace and prosperity, aka a job!
By Paj on 4/12/2012 12:57:29 PM , Rating: 2
Being a pirate is probably more profitable than your job too. In fact, its probably many orders of magnitude more profitable than my job, or many others jobs too.

People turn to crime when they feel like they have nothing left to lose. This is relative from place to place, but for many Somalis, having a job is now something to lose.

The best solution is to rehabilitate the economy, and make the general populace feel safe. This is what is happening.

Of course, we could deploy more hideously expensive, error-prone robotic helicopters to take pictures of boats. That might work too.


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