Video-stitching technology provides new persistent surveillance capability for U.S. Army
September 27, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Oct. 3, 2013) -- Monitoring a perimeter can be a time consuming and potentially dangerous task for a Soldier, and many video surveillance systems can still leave an area prone to attack. Army researchers are working to provide a new solution for persistent perimeter surveillance to keep an area secure and Soldiers out of harm's way.
Engineers from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications-electronics center, or CERDEC, have demonstrated an improved situational awareness system, utilizing an array of cameras, video stitching technology and autonomous target detection software.
The system, called Reduced Manning Situational Awareness, or RMSA, is a joint effort between CERDEC's Night Vision & Electronic Sensors Directorate, or NVESD, CERDEC's Command, Power and Integration Directorate, or CP&I, and industry partner Ducommun Miltec, who was awarded a contract in 2011 to build two RMSA prototypes. NVESD provides its long history of sensor development expertise while CP&I provides technical, software and integration support.
The system uses a series of stacked visible-spectrum and infrared cameras to provide 180 degrees of persistent video surveillance, explained Beverly Pepper, a CERDEC CP&I engineer working on the RMSA project. The system stitches together video feed from each camera, creating a seamless, panoramic video image.
The RMSA system reduces the manpower required to monitor an area. "It could be just one person manning the computer system as opposed to multiple people physically manning a border," Pepper said.
Many video surveillance systems use one camera that pans across the field of vision, which can be unfavorable for several reasons. A panning system creates a surveillance gap, meaning something may be missed while the camera is not pointed in its direction.
Because the RMSA system has multiple stationary cameras, it can monitor all 180 degrees of the surveyed area at all times, eliminating a surveillance gap.
Panning systems can also create static, jumping images that do not seamlessly follow real-time movement. Pepper likened it to speaking with someone over a webcam years ago, how the video was often slow and broken up.
RMSA's stitched video feed merges the data from each set of stationary cameras at a higher frame-rate than panning systems, creating a continuous, near real-time panoramic video feed.
"If you see someone walking, it actually looks like a normal walk rather than choppy and disjointed," said Tim Crotty, CERDEC NVESD engineer.
Video footage from RMSA's cameras is transferred to a mobile command and control center where an operator can monitor the footage. The system has the ability to transfer that information wirelessly, should the operator need to be a distance away, for safety concerns Crotty said.
Inside the command and control center are several computer monitors, half of which are dedicated to the visible spectrum camera footage and the other half dedicated to infrared camera footage.
According to Pepper, the second key element to RMSA is the advanced analytic software behind the system that allows for automatic tracking of movement in the field of view.
When RMSA detects movement, red boxes pop up on the monitoring screens, tracking the movement and allowing the operator to zoom toward the targets. The algorithms used to detect movement can be tailored to the environment in which the system is being used, depending on whether the area is monitoring human targets or vehicles.
The system also has the ability to record and archive identified targets. By aiding the operator in tracking and identifying whether the movement is a threat, RMSA reduces the burden on the operator during a potentially high-stress situation.
While designed with the Soldier in an operational environment in mind, the system could also be useful for homeland security, border patrol or any type of asset protection, Crotty said. It can monitor any perimeter or border within the range of the cameras.
The current RMSA system platform uses solar panels to power the trailer housing the mast and sets of cameras, while a generator or ground power is used to power the mobile command center. The current platforms serve as a prototype for the RMSA video stitching and tracking technologies and can be modified. The system utilizes non-proprietary, commercial hardware and open architecture software that are customizable based on the user's needs.
The system was most recently tested at CERDEC's field testing range this summer. Characterization testing was conducted, to determine the system's sensitivity to different objects, like walking humans or moving vehicles, at specified distances. Researchers also gained feedback from Soldiers, who tested the system, describing the system as intuitive and useful for inner perimeter protection, Pepper said.
Further testing of the system will continue through the end of September, after which CERDEC NVESD will maintain the RMSA prototypes for further development.
CERDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.