Northrop Grumman is assessing software for the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial system that could radically improve target acquisition and tracking by the aircraft's electro-optical/infrared sensors.

In a demonstration at the Northrop Grumman stand at the Avalon air show, representatives from the US contractor and Australian software producer Sentient Vision showed EO/IR footage recorded by a small UAS equipped with the company's Kestrel software.

In a video feed of a soccer game, Kestrel was able to track individual players around the field. In footage of a field, it was able to create an alert when a person was spotted crawling in the grass. It was also able to distinguish a small wooden boat from wave crests from 9nm away.

Kestral has seen action aboard a number of smaller UAVs. It is also used by the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter.

The Sentient software in which Northrop is interested for Triton is called VIDAR. Like Kestrel, it relies on an algorithm that helps identify objects of interest amid clutter on the ground or on the surface of the sea. Sentient says it could allow for vast improvements in the utilisation of the Triton's EO/IR sensors.

Sentient claims that the software does not require a great deal of processing power. This allows processing to take place on the aircraft, which can then send only relevant contact data to the ground station, reducing the bandwidth burden imposed by EO/IR sensors. It also greatly eases the workload of UAS sensor operators, who can rely on the system to alert them to newly-acquired targets.

Northrop and Sentient see several applications for VIDAR aboard Triton, of which Australia is likely to obtain seven. Applications include spotting small wooden boats, life jackets, and other item of interest in the sea. The system could also supply Triton with a passive submarine detection capability, as the software would be able to identify the periscope of a submarine.

Source: Flight International