With the popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles increasing, the military is pushing to set the bar higher for UAV performance. A report by Defense Systems highlights changes taking place and areas of consideration for improving UAVs.
As UAV flights are more prevalent, flight length and larger UAVs have made way for more sensors and electronics capable of performing analysis and compression of images. Measures are being taken to reduce weight and power requirements for UAVs as well.
A Raytheon executive told Defense Systems the company is working on techniques to analyze light output of images in order to categorize images.
“We’re using hyperspectral imaging. We use a spectrometer to get the signatures of different objects,” said Neil Peterson, business development director at Raytheon intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems. “If you’re looking for a downed airplane, you can look for its elemental composition, for example. This lets you detect things in very complex environments.”
Technologies like these could be useful when capturing images in areas of pollution, rain and humidity. These are also useful when trying to get a look at a target from far away. The report says multiple inputs can improve image quality.
David Strong, vice president of marketing at FLIR Government Systems, told Defense Systems that visual limitations are driving his company to shortwave infrared, which is capable of capturing emitted heat energy and reflected infrared light.
However, additional sensors for better imagery can create a larger load of data that can overload channels, according to the report. In response, engineers have designed sensors they say can process and disseminate large amounts of data.
The report said that algorithms are used to determine what images are most important, but analysts are still able to access all images.
“When you mine the data smartly, you can send five selected images instead of sending 6 GB of data,” said Robert Robinson, a senior program manager for airborne reconnaissance systems at Lockheed Martin. “Still, you need to let the operator expand those jpegs and look at larger images and related images that might be useful.”
There is also a movement to use more commercial technology in UAVs and to reduce bandwidth. Many developers are trying to squeeze high-resolution sensors into UAVs without affecting mission duration or distance.
Rick Lober, vice president and general manager of the defense and intelligence systems division for Hughes Network Systems, recently told ExecutiveBiz he sees a movement toward compressing images and maximizing bandwidth by getting the most possible data over it.
Flight duration has made room for reducing the weight of sensors, according to Defense Systems. Smaller technology has resulted in semiconductors with more computing capabilities packed into one chip. This raises both heat and power consumption levels, which affects the lifetime of electronics used on critical missions, the report said.