BY SHARON WEINBERGER
1) Aces Hy TYPE: Hyperspectral Sensor
BATTLEFIELD USE - Earlier this year the Air Force quietly deployed a new sensor called Aces Hy on its Predator drone in Afghanistan. It can see objects on the ground not visible to the human eye, such as hidden roadside bombs or illicit opium crops. Aces Hy is a hyperspectral imaging sensor developed by Raytheon Corp. Such sensors can pick up light across the electromagnetic spectrum, allowing them to detect the composition of specific objects based on their spectral "fingerprint." These sensors have been previously used on satellites and on manned aircraft like Shadow Harvest, a Defense Intelligence Agency C-130 aircraft. But they are now migrating to drones. DOMESTIC FUTURE - Hyperspectral sensors would have a variety of applications for homeland security. For example, Canadian researchers have already experimented with using hyperspectral imagery to find unmarked graves, which they believe could allow police to help find possible murder victims. Scientists also believe that hyperspectral mapping could be used to discriminate illegal crops such as marijuana from surrounding plants. Outside of law enforcement, mineral prospectors could benefit from airborne assaying, and farmers could get detailed information about their land.
2) Argus TYPE: Wide-Area Surveillance
BATTLEFIELD USE - When Gorgon Stare—a sensor system with nine video cameras—was deployed to Afghanistan, officials praised its ability to keep watch over an entire city. But coming soon is Argus, a leaner and more powerful device. Argus has only four cameras, but each has 92 focal plane arrays. Argus is expected to generate 274 terabytes of data per hour, or roughly 6 to 13 petabytes of data every one or two days, "[That's] the equivalent of 137,000 high-definition movies per hour," says Lt. Gen. Larry James, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. DOMESTIC FUTURE - In the U.S., these wide-area surveillance cameras would allow law enforcement to keep tabs on large parts of a city from above. But the need for complex multicamera systems may be fading. A state-of-the-art surveillance system called Kestrel was tested on a blimp this year during operations on the U.S.–Mexico border. The video system uses a single continuously swirling camera to monitor about 70 square miles. Such a blimp could be programmed with a velocity filter that can spot speeding vehicles. Every time the wide-area camera spots a violator, a higher-resolution camera onboard could zoom in to capture a license plate. And they aren't limited to blimps: Small UAVs could do similar surveillance over the course of a day, which would be useful to a police tactical unit that wants to know exactly who enters and exits a crack den in the hours before the cops launch a raid.
3) Multi-Spectral Targeting System TYPE: Full motion video
BATTLEFIELD USE - MTS-B integrates an infrared sensor, a color/monochrome daylight TV camera, and an image-intensified TV camera into a single package. The full motion video from each of the imaging sensors can be viewed as separate video streams or fused together. The system offers great details, from altitudes where the aircraft cannot be spotted. National Guard aircraft UAVs already fly with these sensors. Raytheon is marketing the technology for scientific and civilian use.
DOMESTIC FUTURE - Seeing real-time video of the ground is not necessarily new, but the amount of video is unprecedented. For example, Air Force officials say they are collecting some 1200 hours of full motion video a day, or about 35,000 hours a month. Processing all that data, though, is another matter: The amount of video collected by full-time full motion video could easily overwhelm a domestic police force. As usual, the Achilles heel of total monitoring could be the inability for anyone to use all the data in a coherent way. So instead of 24/7 surveillance, law enforcement may find better use for full motion video during specific police operations, such as public events, search-and-rescue, or response to major disasters.
4) HALOE TYPE: Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR)
BATTLEFIELD USE - These new sensors use lasers to create three-dimensional maps of ground terrain by measuring how long it takes those lasers to bounce back from the target. The Pentagon has already flown the DARPA-developed sensor system called High Altitude Lidar Operations Experiment, or HALOE, in Afghanistan. Michael Vickers, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told an audience at a geo-spatial intelligence conference held last year in San Antonio that the military has already mapped more than a third of Afghanistan using LIDAR. This summer the Navy plans to test LIDAR on a Firescout, a robotic helicopter, to help spot pirates.
DOMESTIC FUTURE - In the U.S., police already use LIDAR as an alternative to radar to catch speeders. Such road monitoring could be more widespread if these sensors are mounted on UAVs, since unmanned aircraft can stay airborne for such a long time. LIDAR could also be used to spot hidden drug labs. City planners and architects could use the technology to map areas before building, and emergency relief workers could use LIDAR to gauge the damage to remote areas after a storm or other cataclysmic event.