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.