Seeing what you need to see

Written by: Tom Shelley | Published:

Tom Shelley looks at military vision aids to situational awareness that also have uses in the civilian sector.

In mission-critical military situations, new IT developments flash up information in gunsights that gunners need to be aware of, and vision system fusion allows an operator who is relatively safe inside an armoured vehicle to see all around it as if he were outside, but with his vision enhanced by fusing information from different types of camera.

As well as military situations, such aids could be invaluable in plant and security control rooms if they can similarly be made to flag up matters that need to be paid attention to, and improve visibility of what is going on. The gunsight system is called, 'Pointer', and has been developed by QinetiQ in conjunction with Istec Services and QioptiQ.

At the recent International Armoured Vehicles Show, Qinetic's Ian Caesar explained that cues about where a gunner should be looking come from sensors that might be anywhere: acoustic gun shot detectors, muzzle flash detectors, retro reflective detectors, CCTV cameras with laser range finders, hand held laser range finders, radar, remote ground sensors, or any system that produces a point in space.

This information is processed by a base station – a laptop computer – on which can also be plotted areas occupied by friendly forces, where gun activity should be ignored, as well as tracking friendly call signs to avoid fratricide. Using a secure wireless network, targets can be relayed to gunners in a second, either automatically, or by the commander clicking off targets. Indication in the gun sight is in the form of chevrons indicating which way to turn to look and a diamond when the target is found.

Similar systems that flag up hot spots in plant, or suspicious activities, could be invaluable in civilian control rooms. Of equal value, Barco has come up with a 'Local Situational Awareness' technology that can fuse information from multiple cameras so as to create a single all round view, instead of operators having to glance between multiple screens.

Reggy Mortier, director key account management, explained that since cameras are mounted in different places and at different heights, this can involve panoramic stitching, warping and fusing image information from cameras that have different pixel resolutions, and may be optimised for normal daylight vision, low light levels or infra red. The system uses1 Gbit/s Ethernet, JPEG 2000 compression, standard IEEE protocols and dedicated hardware in order to be able to process information in real time and keep latency below 80ms. The system is DEF-STAN-0082 compliant and can be made to detect motion.

Some idea of the other possible applications can be gleaned from the group functions on Mortier's business card, which include: avionics, monitoring, control and medical, as well as defence. He said that each system is tailored to its particular application and installation, which suggests that at this stage they are not likely to be cheap.

However, the cost of electronic hardware continues to come down all the time and it is not inconceivable that all round intelligent vision systems will in time come as standard on cars and trucks, enabling total rearward vision when reversing, and alerting drivers to vehicles in blind spots.

Design Pointers
• Pointer system takes information from multiple sensors and transmits information to gunners so that they can quickly locate targets, while ignoring friendly activities
• Local Situational Awareness video system takes data from multiple camera s in different positions and of different types and stitches them together into single panoramic views, which can also be zoomed and panned
• Motion detection can be built and its sensitivity fine tuned. Images can also be stabilised if the platform is moving

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