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Smart robocopters to ferret out pirates' boats

United States America,Science/Tech, Mon, 09 Apr 2012 IANS

Washington, April 9 (IANS) US naval robocopters, carrying powerful sensors, will be able to ferret out small pirate boats even if they are indistinguishable from other vessels.


Somalian pirates are again in the news for holding a Nigeria-bound oil tanker to ransom, with 17 out of the 22 crewmen being Indians, which is the latest in a series of their depredations.


"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 Office of Naval Research (ONR)'s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department, which is behind the project.


"The automatic target recognition software gives Fire Scout the ability to distinguish target boats in congested coastal waters using LADAR (laser-radar), and it sends that information to human operators, who can then analyze those vessels in a 3-D picture."


The software, called the Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS) is a mix of high-definition cameras, mid-wave infrared sensors and LADAR technology. It will be placed on a robotic chopper called the Fire Scout, according to an ONR statement.


Carrying advanced automatic target recognition software, the sensor prototype 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.


Navy-developed target recognition algorithms aboard Fire Scout will exploit the 3-D data collected by the LADAR, utilizing a long-range, high-res, eye-safe laser. The software compares the 3-D imagery to vessel templates or schematics stored in the system's memory.


"The 3-D data gives you a leg up on target identification," said Dean Cook, principal investigator for the MMSS program at Naval Air Warfare Centre Weapons Division.


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