The UAV Data Firehose


I wasn't able to jump on this yesterday due to some commitments, but there was an interesting piece in the New York Times about the huge amount of UAV data pouring into military hard drives -- so much that the USAF, for example, is drowning in it.

It got me to thinking that the services are exactly right to store all that drone feed footage no matter how boring it might be. The flight of a Reaper drone from its impoundment in Jalalabad to its target in Miran Shah might be just rocky paths and scrub brush, but to a skilled analyst, the tell-tale differences from each pass over a span of time might mean the difference between detecting a new "rat line" and ignoring a key Taliban infiltration route.

A group of young analysts already watches every second of the footage live as it is streamed to Langley Air Force Base here and to other intelligence centers, and they quickly pass warnings about insurgents and roadside bombs to troops in the field.

But military officials also see much potential in using the archives of video collected by the drones for later analysis, like searching for patterns of insurgent activity over time. To date, only a small fraction of the stored video has been retrieved for such intelligence purposes.

The story seems to indicate that there's a shortage of analysts to evaluate the video and pinpoint the intel that might prove useful -- especially if it's second or third order data.
Air Force officials, who take the lead in analyzing the video from Iraq and Afghanistan, say they have managed to keep up with the most urgent assignments. And it was clear, on a visit to the analysis center in an old hangar here, that they were often able to correlate the video data with clues in still images and intercepted phone conversations to build a fuller picture of the biggest threats.
But aren't there software solutions that can process the footage and pick out the things analysts might be interested in? I mean, the National Geospacial Intelligence Agency doesn't pour over hard copies of Key Hole satellite shotsKestrelTest with a magnifying glass anymore, do they?
But while the biggest timesaver would be to automatically scan the video for trucks and armed men, that software is not yet reliable. And the military has run into the same problem that the broadcast industry has in trying to pick out football players swarming on a tackle.
So I dredged up a company I'd seen one year at a trade show that developed software to run in the background of UAV feeds. The application pinpoints vehicles, personnel and other objects interesting to the operator and tracks them in a color coded box. Seems to me the same could be developed for a passive application where the video footage is just run through the processor after the mission and the software picks out certain clips that contain the clues analysts program in.

I can see the article's point -- the AF is developing new software to get key info to the field from drone passes faster to the operator on the ground...but what about that change analysis piece?

Here's a cool analysis test from the Kestrel web site.

-- Christian

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