Sentient Vision, based in Port Melbourne, Australia is here at SAR International 2017, presenting its Visual Detection and Ranging (ViDAR) capability. Simon Olsen, the company’s Director of Business Development told the author, “It is an optical system that can find very small targets on the ocean in a range of sea states in a range of conditions very quickly, with a very small payload. It is the world’s first optical radar. It can provide over 80 times greater coverage compared with existing EO/IR systems.”
The company has created a system that generates an optical array from the platform, whether it is a UAV like the INSITU ScanEagle, or a larger manned aircraft like the Challenger 604s of AMSA [Australian Maritime Safety Authority].
The origins of ViDAR came from the challenges that Sentient observed while working with the Royal Australian Navy and the US Coast Guard. “That was because the traditional radar depends upon size and power. So, if you wanted to find small targets on the ocean you needed to find a very big radar. A lot of platforms we work with, even helicopters have difficulty carrying a radar big enough for the job. Even when they do, the size and costs are very significant.
“UAVs are not generally big enough to carry it. Even on a manned aircraft, there are still performance gaps. Radar historically is very good, at finding vessels on the ocean but it is not so good at finding things that either don’t have a strong electronic signature or for detecting objects without letting them know you are doing so.”
Olsen continues, “In essence, VIDAR consists of multiple cameras that are looking over the ocean in front of the platform. They are very high resolution, commercially off the shelf and much cheaper of course than other EO/IR sensors that are used on manned aircraft. These cameras can fit in your hand – like a Go-Pro, which create a visual array over the ocean. The software itself is an autonomous learning algorithm, the only one of its kind. It can analyse the ocean, autonomously understand how the ocean moves and evolves, how the sun reflects off the ocean and can pick up anything on the surface which is distinctly different from the natural environment.”
What happens next is just like a radar – it finds something, it sends an image and a location co-ordinate and only at that point the operator becomes involved. They will look at the image, selects it and cue the EO/IR sensor on the aircraft, just like how an aircraft with a radar would. This is set to revolutionise the way that maritime surveillance aircraft operate. In 2016, it was demonstrated to the Royal Navy during Exercise Unmanned Warrior. It has a 20 nautical mile search swath and can cover 13,360 nautical miles of ocean coverage in 12 hours at 60 knots. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority operates the system on the Challenger 604’s operated by Cobham.
Simon Olsen’s presentation of the radar was very well received by Search and Rescue International Conference delegates in Nîmes.