US: The US Navy announced to use LiDAR-powered Fire Scouts drones to automatically recognise small pirate boats. A first test is scheduled to take place with seven small boats off the California coast this summer.
“The automatic target recognition software gives Fire Scout the ability to distinguish target boats in congested coastal waters using LiDAR, and it sends that information to human operators, who can then analyse those vessels in a 3D picture,” explained Ken Heeke, programme officer in the Office of Naval Research’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department.
Experts believe that the new drones can ease the workload strain for Navy sailors, who must otherwise eyeball the data coming from the new Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS) — a sensor mix of high-definition cameras, mid-wave infrared sensors and the 3D LiDAR technology.
“Infrared and visible cameras produce 2D pictures, and objects in them can be difficult to automatically identify,” said Dean Cook, principal investigator for the MMSS program at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division. “With LiDAR data, each pixel corresponds to a 3D point in space, so the automatic target recognition algorithm can calculate the dimensions of an object and compare them to those in a database.”
Other branches of the US military have also expressed interest in this innovative practice. It can be used to create 3D maps of the battlefield in bad weather conditions and avoid deadly crashes during attempted landings. The “AlphaDog” robot has also used such technology in early testing as a robotic battlefield mule for US Marines.
Meanwhile, the Navy has begun testing other new technologies to tackle the problem of piracy — an especially thorny issue because of Somali pirates attacking ships off the coast of East Africa. Its more forceful countermeasures include a combination of lasers and machine guns, as well as swarms of smart rockets capable of picking out their own small boat targets.