Vendors Pushing Next-Generation Sensors for Unmanned Systems

By Yasmin Tadjdeh
As unmanned systems become more prevalent on the ground, air and sea, industry is continuing to advance the sensor technology that goes aboard them.
Several new sensors made their debut at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exhibition in Washington, D.C., this week.
L-3 Cincinnati Electronics unveiled its Nightconqueror High Definition Infrared Imaging Engine. It takes a single high definition camera and puts it in a spinner that takes snapshots 2.5 times per second, which comes to 24 images per rotation. This results in a 360-degree video, said Stephen Schmidt, business development manager for the company.
“What we’ve done is taken one high-definition camera and we’ve put it into this rotational unit and then what that will produce is the full panoramic 360-degree image,” said Schmidt. The Nightconqueror can be configured for ground, air or sea missions, he said. Using just one camera to take photos keeps costs down.
L-3 WESCAM released the MX-RTSA, an electro-optical/infrared imaging system. The modular system can be mounted onto masts or on unmanned or manned vehicles and provides a variety of payload options including thermal imaging, high-definition color sensors and laser pointers among others.
The MX-RTSA still needs to go through qualification tests before being put on the market, but it should be available by April 2013, said Paul Jennison, vice president of government sales and business development at L-3 WESCAM. For now, the company is looking at pricing the system at around $250,000 and it hopes to sell it to international and domestic customers.
“We view the overall market in really two areas: we’re seeing that the international market is alive now and they are buying now, and the U.S. market — because a lot of vehicles are coming back from the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan — they are going to go into a reset mode,” said Jennison. By the time the U.S. military starts upgrading vehicles — in two years or so, the MX-RTSA will be “well positioned” to be placed on light-tactical vehicles or Strykers, he said.
QinetiQ North America also showed off its Small-Multispectral Imager at the exhibition. The camera takes pictures using three different spectral filters and uses an algorithm in real time to make a composite shot, giving each item in the image a distinctive color based on its spectral signature. By differentiating colors, it can accentuate out of place items — for example — a tripwire in a bush.
“The algorithm is working real time to discover what’s different in the image and then creating as much contrast between that and the background, so then it’s very easy to [see something],” said Kevin Baker, a software engineer for Advanced Technology R&D at QinetiQ. “It’s an on-the-fly adaptive algorithm.”
The camera can be mounted on an unmanned system and used to detect anomalies. QinetiQ is looking to collaborate with remotely piloted aircraft manufactures.
BAE Systems brought to the show its new digitally fused sensor system, which mixes low-light and infrared images and meshes them together into a picture.
“If you look at the world in [infrared] world, it’s sort of pseudo. I mean, you can see bright lights up there that just look like little dots. You see people, but of course they are very different, and you don’t see a lot of things that are thermally neutral,” said Eric Hansen, manager of business development for mission applications intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance solutions at BAE Systems. “[With] daytime cameras, you see a lot of detail, you see shadows, textures, you see words and things like that, and ideally the best case is to have both of them together.”
Still in its prototype stage, the company plans to integrate the 144-gram sensor onto unmanned ground vehicles or unmanned aircraft.
Photo Credit: Yasmin Tadjdeh

Topics: Infotech, Robotics, Science and Engineering Technology

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