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  • Navy Robocopters to Target Pirates

Photonics.com
Apr 2012
ARLINGTON, Va., April 9, 2012 — Navy unmanned aircraft will be able to distinguish small pirate boats in congested coastal waters when a US Office of Naval Research (ONR)-funded sensor starts airborne tests this summer, officials announced.

The Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS), which will be placed on the Fire Scout robotic helicopter, mixes high-definition cameras with mid-wave infrared sensors and laser detection and ranging (ladar) technology. The sensor prototype carries advanced automatic target recognition software that will allow Fire Scout to autonomously identify small boats on the water, reducing the workload of sailors operating it from control stations aboard Navy ships.


A screen shot of imagery obtained by the Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS), which uses automatic target recognition software to help robotic aircraft identify target boats in congested coastal waters. Sailors operating the robotic aircraft receive the image on their control station displays. Funded by the US Office of Naval Research, the MMSS is a suite of high-definition mid-wave infrared and visible sensors and laser-radar technology under development for naval unmanned aircraft. (Image: US Navy)

“Sailors who control robotic systems can become overloaded with data, often sifting through hours of streaming video searching for a single ship,” said Ken Heeke, program officer in the ONR’s Air Warfare and Weapons Department.”

The Navy-developed target recognition algorithm on Fire Scout exploits 3-D data collected by the ladar, using a long-range, high-resolution, eye-safe laser. The software compares the 3-D imagery to vessel templates or schematics stored in the system’s memory.


Navy pilots look at a Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle during a static display of current and historic Navy aircraft at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego on Feb 11, 2011. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chris Fahey/Released)

“The 3-D data gives you a leg up on target identification, said Dean Cook, principal investigator for the MMSS program at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Div. “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 Navy successfully tested the algorithm in shore-based systems against vessels at sea. The software is being integrated into a BRITE Star II turret by a team for airborne testing abroad a manned test helicopter.

The flight assessment will be conducted against groups of approximately seven small boats in a military sea range off the California coast later this summer.

For more information, visit: www.onr.navy.mil  


GLOSSARY
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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