ViDAR, or visual radar, is the term coined by Australian computer vision specialist Sentient for a newly developed sensor that combines a high-definition electro-optic (EO) camera with automatic target detection algorithms to detect small maritime targets.
The ScanEagle drone from Insitu equipped with the ViDAR payload showcased its newest wide-area maritime surface search and identification technology during the Royal Navy’s Unmanned Warrior demonstration. During the event, held in Benbecula, Scotland, the Insitu team was tasked to perform a range of maritime missions using ScanEagle.
Despite sometimes challenging weather, ScanEagle with ViDAR autonomously detected hundreds of large and small objects in sea state six conditions. These included spotting and positively identifying two mine sweepers by number, spotting smaller objects such as stationary jet skis and buoys at 5 nm and locating 28 contacts from one sortie in fewer than two hours. ViDAR successfully and reliably detected objects through changing environmental conditions ranging from clear sun to wind, rain, haze and fog.
“In another, ViDAR was tasked with seeing if it could find Fast Attack Craft (FAC) at range in order to provide early warning to a vessel of small inbound threats.” The ScanEagle was positioned at the extent of its range within the airspace allocated for the mission. Within moments of starting its run, ViDAR autonomously detected the FAC out beyond 13nm. This fast detection and identification of such a small threat gave the protected vessel over 30 minutes of advance notice in which to act – game changing in terms of the extra time it provides to vessels to respond to potential threats.”
“During one flight our team spotted a target 19 nm away before the exercise began,” said Suzanne McNamara, vice president of business development for Insitu. “ScanEagle with ViDAR is a force multiplier that will establish a new standard for global navies. We are extremely proud of the successes we achieved during Unmanned Warrior and look forward to supporting our customers with this advanced capability.”
ViDAR is a wide area autonomous detection system for electro-optic imagery in the maritime domain. The ViDAR can cover an area greater than 13,000 square nautical miles (17,000 sq mi; 45,000 km2) over a 12-hour mission, and detected small and large surface, air, and even submerged targets during the demonstration.
Small, light and self contained, ViDAR allows effective primary search with smaller UAVs and aircraft without radar, dramatically improving the cost effectiveness of maritime operations such as search and rescue, maritime patrol, anti-piracy, anti-narcotics and border protection. Keeping the world’s international waters safe demands that decision makers have access to the best tactical information in the most challenging environments.
ScanEagle emerged as the result of a strategic alliance between Boeing and Insitu. The resulting technology has been successful as a portable Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) for autonomous surveillance in the battlefield, and has been deployed since August 2004 in the Iraq War. ScanEagle carries a stabilized electro-optical and/or infrared camera on a lightweight inertial stabilized turret system, and an integrated communications system having a range of over 62 miles (100 km); it has a flight endurance of over 20 hours. The ScanEagle entered service with the U.S. Navy in 2005. In addition to the United States military, the Australian Army also operates the ScanEagle UAV and the Canadian Government also leased the ScanEagle.
With the ability to detect, track, and cross cue sensors to multiple targets, ViDAR is able to use the existing ScanEagle primary sensor suite to positively identify maritime target detections.
ViDAR (Visual Detection and Ranging) payload
ViDAR fits into ScanEagle as a modular slice that comprises a high-resolution digital camera that continuously scans the ocean in a 180-degree arc in front of the air vehicle. The ViDAR software then autonomously detects any object on the surface of the ocean, providing the ground control station with an image and location coordinate of each object detected in real time. The spotter sensor can then be cross-cued to the object for closer inspection.
This technology draws attention to inconsistencies in the water’s surface, such as a ship, a whale or even an oil slick. With pinpoint accuracy, an operator can then pick those of interest and take a closer look with our sharp-eyed turret, also known as “cross-cueing”.
Don Williamson, Insitu’s vice president for the ScanEagle product line, told reporters May 16 at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition 2016 that, whereas traditional electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) sensors tend to search for items of interest with a “soda straw” aperture, making it very tough to do broad area surveillance, the new ViDAR package can scan 160 degrees and use pixel-to-pixel correlation to determine what is water and what is a non-water. As the camera finds non-water objects of interest, those images are sent to the operator’s screen and can be zoomed in on if the operator wants a better look. The system can see targets 10 miles away and can scan 13,000 square miles of water on a typical ScanEagle mission
The software that runs the ViDAR payload was developed in Australia by Sentient Vision Systems, and was built into a ScanEagle payload by Hood Technologies of Hood River, OR. Sentient and Insitu are pleased to confirm the signing of an exclusive global distribution agreement for the ViDAR software for unmanned systems within the small UAS weight class.
Don Williamson, Insitu’s vice president of the ScanEagle product line, said “Adding ViDAR’s capability to ScanEagle demonstrates our focus on continuing to deliver mission-critical technology for our global customer’s maritime ISR needs.” ViDAR fits a modular slice on ScanEagle that comprises a large backplane digital video camera that continuously scans the ocean in a 180-degree arc in front of the air vehicle. Sentient’s ViDAR software then autonomously detects any object on the surface of the ocean, providing the ground control station with an image and location coordinate of each object detected in real time. The primary sensor can then be cross-cued to the object by simply clicking on the image. In demonstrations, ViDAR has autonomously detected a fishing vessel at 14 nm, a fast boat at more than 9 nm and even the spout of a whale at 1.5 nm from the aircraft.
Flying, Launch and Recovery System (FLARES)
ScanEagle is launched by a catapult and It is recovered using the “Skyhook” retrieval system, which uses a hook on the end of the wingtip to catch a rope hanging from a 30-to-50-foot (9.1 to 15.2 m) pole. This is made possible by high-quality differential GPS units mounted on the top of the pole and UAV.
Insitu has fielded a Flying, Launch and Recovery System (FLARES), which is essentially a UAV that launches the ScanEagle UAV. By connecting the UAV to a rotary-wing UAV, the pair can take off vertically, clear the tree line or buildings, and then separate in flight. Williamson said this duo preserves “the strength of having a long-endurance, high-persistent fixed-wing UAV” while making it even more expeditionary – with the ability to be launched from a jungle, a mountain top, or even an embassy roof. The ScanEagle already comes in a carrying case, and FLARES can disassemble and fit into the same case, so a person in a pickup truck with two cases in the back would be capable of launching a 12-hour intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) tool from almost any location
FLARES returns to its point of launch after separating from the ScanEagle and would wait on the ground while the UAV runs its mission. For recovery, an operator attaches a rope to FLARES, which flies up vertically and simulates a skyhook to catch the ScanEagle – though Williamson said there is more slack in the rope, creating a less forceful landing for the UAV that is easier on the frame
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