In the trenchesCollecting – and interpreting -- sensor data

Published 5 January 2010

The U.S. military is relying an ever-greater number of cameras and sensors to collect information; there is a need to turn this mountain of data feeds into usable information for soldiers; Virginia-based Samoff offers its TerraSight product as a solution

As the U.S. military buys more and more sensors, cameras and surveillance gear, it also is purchasing systems to turn the new data feeds into usable information for soldiers. One such system is TerraSight, developed by Sarnoff, a small company with an operation in Arlington, Virginia. The TerraSight system can project instant video and imagery onto a three-dimensional bird’s-eye view of an area, such as a forward operating base and its surroundings.

DefenseNews’s Antonie Boessenkool writes that users can see the image feeds in context and coordinate a response if, for example, a suspicious vehicle approaches. A UAV may pick up that image, and an intelligence analyst using TerraSight can then direct a patrolling vehicle to specific coordinates to check it out.

The U.S. Army is using TerraSight in Iraq and Afghanis-tan as part of the Base Expeditionary Targeting Surveillance Systems-Combined (BETSS-C) program led by Raytheon. Under BETSS-C, troops are protected by portable, 107-foot Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment towers equipped with video cameras. TerraSight pulls together feeds from those cameras with video feeds from UAVs on the overall map.

The Army has invested quite a bit into Sarnoff for force protection, because we can handle both the air and ground sensors simultaneously,” said John Bradburn, Sarnoff’s director of business development. “If I need to look over the hill, and I have a laptop [computer], there’s no reason I shouldn’t have connectivity to see what that camera is looking at, if I have a camera there or a UAV. That’s their vision of where the technology is going.”

Mark Clifton, Sarnoff’s acting president and chief executive, said that while other companies are developing 3-D mapping systems, TerraSight is unique. “Other people are moving toward three-dimensional representations of their environment with sensor placement, but no one else has the capability to show full-motion video in that context,” said Clifton, who was named acting CEO in October after then-CEO Don Newsome left the company for health reasons. “The ability to take in mobile sensors, including air[borne] sensors and fixed sensors, I think is what we offer that’s a bit unique.”

Boessenkool writes that the army bought a service-wide license for TerraSight, but all four U.S. military services use it. The Marine Corps has used it on ScanEagle UAVs, and the Air Force has used it with its full-motion video systems on Predator UAVs.

Sarnoff has so far delivered more than 200 of its Standard Ground Stations, which are computer