Electronic Weapons: Robotic Eyes Miss Nothing


April 17, 2012: The U.S. Navy is developing a pattern recognition system for its Fire Scout helicopter UAV. The system uses lidar (a radar using lasers) to examine small ships, seeking ones that match the description of known pirate mother ships. When the detection system believes it has found a pirate, the UAV operator is alerted and human eyes are used to confirm the sighting. After that the pirates are arrested or attacked, depending on the circumstances.

The navy had earlier developed this lidar system for unmanned patrol boats used on inland waterways. The navy needed navigation software for tricky situations, like having a radar able to detect a bridge as something the unmanned boat could go under and not an obstacle to further movement. While developing this it was noted that the pattern recognition system could be applied to a wide variety of objects.

Using software controlled sensors to patrol vast areas of empty water is more efficient, and cheaper, than using human observers (who tend to lose some of their attention after about 20 minutes). Similar systems are being used for security cameras and other UAVs.

The 1.5 ton Fire Scout is based upon the Schweitzer 333 unmanned helicopter, which in turn is derived from the Schweitzer 330 commercial lightweight manned helicopter. Fire Scout has a payload of 272 kg (600 pounds), a cruising speed of 200 kilometers an hour, max altitude of 6,100 meters (20,000 feet), and endurance of eight hours. The U.S. Navy plans to acquire another 160 MQ-8Bs.


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