Optical sensor to track suspected terrorists

February 13th, 2009 - 1:22 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 13 (IANS) Scientists are designing a new kind of optical sensor that uses unmanned aerial vehicles to track suspected terrorists on foot or in vehicles.
“The Air Force has clearly recognised the change in the threat that we have,” said John Kerekes, associate professor in Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Chester F. Carlson Centre for Imaging Science.

“I think we all understand that our military has a paradigm shift. We’re no longer fighting tanks in the open desert; we’re fighting terrorists in small groups, asymmetric threats,” said Kerekes, who is the project leader.

The sensor will collect only the data it needs. It will assess a situation and choose the best sensing mode (black and white imaging, hyperspectral or polarisation) for the purpose.

Developing two strands of information - one about the target, the other about the background environment - will be key to maintaining a connection and for piercing through camouflage effects.

The sensor will collect a black and white image of a target, say a car, and will record the shape of the object. A hyperspectral image will plot the object’s colour as it appears in multiple wavelengths, from the visible light to the near and short infrared parts of the spectrum beyond what the eye can see. This mode can tell the difference between two blue cars passing.

The third imagery mode, polarisation, cuts through glare and gives information about surface roughness. It provides details that distinguish between objects of similar colour and shape. This mode can lock onto the unique material properties of the blue car in question.

“These are all complementary pieces of information and the idea is that if the object you are tracking goes into an area where you lose one piece of information, the other information might help,” Kerekes said.

Kerekes assembled a team with RIT collaborators and other scientists to envision the system from end to end: all the way from the design of the optical and microelectronic devices to the synchronising algorithms that tie everything together.

Zoran Ninkov, professor of imaging science at RIT, is working on the overall optical system. He is modifying one of his own astronomical optical sensors for this ownward-looking purpose, said an RIT release.

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