The ancient art form of discreet surveillance has evolved alongside the technology we use for such purposes. DARPA has this week given us a glimpse of what is now possible, demonstrating ARGUS IS, the latest revolution in surveillance technology.
ARGUS is unlike any other high altitude camera that came before it. Designed and constructed by DARPA funded engineer Yiannis Antoniades ARGUS also represents a new surveillance strategy, Wide Area Persistent Stare. WAPS signifies the new ability to capture a live high resolution video stream of a huge swath of landscape, over long periods of time. Not only is ARGUS capable of 1.8 gigapixel images but it captures them at 15 frames per second.
The first example of ARGUS’s work was also released to the public recently. The incredibly detailed image captures 10 square miles of Virginia, with Quantico City front and centre in the image. Visit the DARPA site see the original ultra high resolution image (8400×6300).
ARGUS IS (Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance – Imaging System) also introduces new characteristics to high altitude surveillance cameras. The 4 lens array provides and incredibly wide angled image, wider than any fish eye lens could dare to stretch. At 17,500 feet the camera is able to capture 10 square miles of landscape in the frame.
Resolution in pixels is a common measure but resolution of time is easily missed. The highest resolution cameras have always sacrificed high frame rates for resolution, not so with ARGUS IS. Each ARGUS’s 368 5 megapixel cameras shoot in a video mode best described as a continuous 15fps burst mode.
Once captured all 368 video streams are processed and transmitted live to ground operations where the streams are stored. Two video processing systems are used by ARGUS, one onboard the host aircraft and the other a ground based processing system. ARGUS puts incredible demands on these systems, each day transmitting over a million terabytes of data, equivalent to 5,000 hours of HD video
‘So you can go back and say I’d like to see what happened at this particular location three days, two hours [and] four minutes ago, and it will actually show you what happened as if you were watching it live,’ said Mr Antoniades.
Doing the image capture work high in the sky are 368 5 Megapixel sensors that form the eyes of ARGUS. The sensors themselves are of the shelf camera sensors as used by the average mobile phone. The power is in the number, put 368 of them together and things get interesting. Zooming in on real time video with incredible detail, high enough resolution to not only make out people walking about but also discern what they are carrying. Track up to 65 targets in real time simultaneously, each with their own zoom window displayed while they are also highlighted on the main image.
ARGUS represents far more than a gradual evolution in surveillance; it is instead a major leap in technology and capability. What the governments of our world use this technology for is highly controversial and classified, raising the question of who is watching the watchers. UAV’s don’t watch people after-all, people watch people.
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