They're watching you: 360-degree sensor to help troops nab insurgents.[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
Nabbing insurgents before they can plant roadside bombs or finding enemy snipers before they shoot have been among the toughest challenges that the U.S. military has faced in current conflicts.
Troops traveling in convoys are trained to look for suspicious activity, but they cannot see everything. Another problem is that most vehicle sensors require time-consuming video analysis, which means that troops are not always able to react in a timely manner.
Later this year, the Marine Corps will be testing a new humvee-mounted system that may provide better real-time intelligence of the surrounding battlefield. Instead of being a single camera, this system combines 29 different sensor outputs and creates a picture that would show instantly what threats might lurk.
The technology--called the computer vision assisted combat capability, or CVAC2--fuses multiple sensor outputs into one real-time, 360-degree "common operating picture."
A prototype will be delivered this summer to the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, Va., for evaluation and demonstration beginning in September, says Maj. Scot Jaworski, a ground combat expert at the lab's technology division.
"If Marines are forced to be buttoned up inside the vehicle, this gives them a chance to have situational awareness all around. Its purpose is to enhance force protection and reduce threat exposure," he says.
The Army and Air Force also have expressed interest in the system and are in discussions with the manufacturer, Sarnoff Corp., says Mark Chapin, the company's director of national defense and homeland security business, based in Princeton, N.J.
"Innovations in video processing allow for complete situational awareness around the vehicle during day or night operations and enable the operator to focus more on mission tasks than on the need to control camera systems and interpret sensor data," says Chapin.
The CVAC2 sensor suite sits atop a vehicle and consists of a thermal infrared imager, a day/night zoom camera, a laser rangefinder, and 12 daytime and 12 night vision cameras. Together these sensors monitor the surroundings. Two Global Positioning System antennae provide location data for the vehicle and the corresponding sensor and video feeds, which are layered on top of each other and are stitched together into a continuous 360-degree "strip" displayed on a computer screen. Once a potential threat is detected, the cameras and sensors can swivel automatically to pinpoint its location.
Mike Piacentino, technical director of Sarnoff's vision systems division, says the sensor suite can be expanded to incorporate other types of sensors and imagers such as the Boomerang, an acoustic sensing technology that detects sniper shots.
In a video demonstration of the CVAC2 prototype with Boomerang integrated into the sensor suite, testers popped bubble wrap to simulate gunfire. Red and orange dots appear in the streaming video to represent the locations of the fired shots. The pan-tilt-zoom cameras in the system swing to those areas and focus in to give troops a closer look so they can react accordingly.
"They can make a determination whether it's a threat, or whether it was a backfiring vehicle, or something else, before they engage it," says Chapin.
The next iteration of the CVAC2 will have Sarnoff's new computer chip processor that is set to enter production early next year. About the size of a quarter, the Acadia II vision-processing chip can reduce the size, weight and power needs of the vehicle situational awareness technologies because it can be embedded directly into the imagers, sensors and displays.
The company's goal is to replace the processors in CVAC2 with half a dozen Acadia II chips. Doing so will decrease the weight by 50 percent and will reduce power consumption, Chapin says.
The intent is to design a more portable system that can be moved from one vehicle to another as needed. 'And you don't need a team of contractors around to set it up for you," says Chapin.
Sarnoff will add short-wave infrared imagers to the suite, which will allow users to see through smoke, fog and bad weather.
Ultimately, the objective is to combine the vehicle-based sensor footage with video gathered by dismounted troops and unmanned aircraft flying nearby. All of the data would be processed and displayed on a single screen inside the truck or personnel carrier.
"Your vehicle now becomes your visualization system," says Piacentino.
Sarnoff also wants to incorporate head-tracking capability into CVAC2 to allow operators hands-free operation of the sensors.
"You just turn in the direction you want to look, and you're seeing what the cameras are seeing while you're safely inside the vehicle," says Chapin.
One of the problems that troops are encountering while riding in vehicles--such as the heavily armored mine-resistant ambush-protected trucks--is that the commander still has to look out the top hatch to see what's happening around the vehicle. "This is a Way to keep the hatch closed, keep everyone inside safe, and still get 360-degree day and night situational awareness," says Chapin.
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