Now, US Navy drones can spot pirates on sea
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Last Updated: Sunday, April 08, 2012, 20:32
  
Washington: The US Navy plans to upgrade its helicopter drones with electronic "brains" enabling them to automatically recognise small pirate boats and create their 3D images on the high seas.

The technology, known as LIDAR or LADAR, can allow the Fire Scout drones to automatically compare the 3D images to pirate boat profiles on record and send information to their human operators who can analyse the pictures and act on them. A first test is scheduled to take place with seven small boats off the California coast this summer.

"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 analyse those vessels in a 3D picture," Ken Heeke, programme officer in the Office of Naval Research's Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department, was quoted as saying by LiveScience.

US military analysts already suffer from serious information overload on modern battlefields, given the huge amounts of data collected by military sensors and drones. Having smarter robotic helicopters could ease the workload strain for Navy sailors, who must otherwise eyeball the data coming from the new Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS) a sensor mix of high-definition cameras, mid-wave infrared sensors and the 3D LADAR technology.

"Infrared and visible cameras produce 2D pictures, and objects in them can be difficult to automatically identify," said Dean Cook, principal investigator for the MMSS programme at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.

"With LADAR data, each pixel corresponds to a 3D point in space, so the automatic target recognition algorithm can calculate the dimensions of an object and compare them to those in a database," Cook added.

Such LIDAR/LADAR technology, researchers said, has also interested other branches of the US military. US Special Forces helicopters could use LADAR to create 3D maps of the battlefield in bad weather conditions and avoid deadly crashes during attempted landings.

The "AlphaDog" robot has also used such technology in early testing as a robotic battlefield mule for US Marines.

Meanwhile, the Navy has begun testing other new technologies to tackle the problem of piracy -- an especially thorny issue because of Somali pirates attacking ships off the coast of East Africa.

Its more forceful countermeasures include a combination of lasers and machine guns, as well as swarms of smart rockets capable of picking out their own small boat targets.

PTI


First Published: Sunday, April 08, 2012, 17:12


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