A new camera developed by the Pentagon’s research arm was highlighted in a recent special on PBS’ “Nova” in an episode called “Rise of the Drones.” It’s a camera system so detailed it can discern specific movements and even what a subject is wearing.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System (ARGUS) has 1.8 billion pixels (1.8 gigapixels), making it the world’ highest resolution camera. The sensors on the camera are so precise, PBS stated it is the equivalent to the capabilities of 100 Predator drones in a medium city.
In the clip from PBS, it is said this is the first time the government has allowed information to be shared about these capabilities.
“It is important for the public to know that some of these capabilities exist,” Yiannis Antonaides with contractor BAE Systems said in the clip, but noted the sensor itself cannot be revealed. “Because we are not allowed to expose some of the pieces that make up this sensor, so you get to look a pretty plastic curtains.”
The technology allows the user to open up a specific windows of interest in the camera’s view while still keeping up an image of the larger picture (sort of like split screen). Antonaides explained that the colored boxes in the image show that the sensor recognized moving objects.
“You can see individuals crossing the street. You can see individuals walking in parking lots. There’s actually enough resolution to see the people waving their arms or walking around or what kind of clothes they wear,” he said.
PBS noted that ARGUS can actually see much more details than just attire. It can see objects as small as six inches. At 2:23 in the clip, Antonaides points out that from 17,500 feet, a white object in the field of view is a bird flying.
Here’s how DARPA describes its project on its website:
Current infrared systems either have a narrow field of view, slow frame rates or are low resolution. DARPA’s Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance – Infrared (ARGUS-IR) program will break this paradigm by producing a wide-field-of-view IR imaging system with frame rates and resolution that are compatible with the tracking of dismounted personnel at night. ARGUS-IR will provide at least 130 independently steerable video streams to enable real-time tracking of individual targets throughout the field of view. The ARGUS-IR system will also provide continuous updates of the entire field of view for enhanced situational awareness.
Watch this clip from PBS’s NOVA special:
PBS pointed out that DARPA put a time crunch on creating the camera, which lead Antonaides to look into technology that you probably have in your purse or pocket at this very moment. Taking similar imaging systems used in smartphones and putting 368 together, is essentially how Antonaides and other engineers at BAE Systems created ARGUS. It is this “mosaic” of cameras that allows the system to zoom in on specific sections in extreme detail.
As for data, the system stores up to 1 million terabytes a day. Putting this into perspective, PBS notes this is equal to 5,000 hours of HD footage.
“You can go back and say ‘I would like to know what happened at this particular location three days, two hours, four minutes ago’ and it would actually show you what happened as if you were watching it live,” Antonaides said.
It is still classified information whether ARGUS has been used in the field yet.
“If we had our choice, we would like ARGUS to be over the same area 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s not very achievable with manned platforms. This is where UAVs come in and they’re absolutely the perfect platform,” Antonaides said.
The ARGUS imaging system can be mounted on a range of drone types.