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Drone spying capabilities to get more sophisticated

A new documentary has revealed the world’s most powerful camera.

Image: Liveleak via PBS Nova

THE FLEET OF drones that police the skies are about to get an upgrade, including a new system that has been described as “the next generation of surveillance.

Developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and BAE Systems, the $18.5 million Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System (ARGUS) programme will be the most advanced surveillance system in the world.

Once attached under an unmanned aerial vehicle, an ARGUS camera can patrol at 17,500 feet and send back high-resolution images of 1.8 gigapixels.

The images are so crisp and clear that an analyst can actually see what colour shirt a subject is wearing.

The following screengrabs are all from a PSB documentary, for which engineers were granted permission to show ARGUS’s basic features.

Yiannis Antoniades, the engineer who designed ARGUS, boasts the highest-resolution camera in the world.

And instead of a camera that can only track in one direction, ARGUS attaches under a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to take photos of a wide area.

The camera fits inside this pod, which gets attached to the belly of a UAV. Permission to show a photo of the camera itself was not granted to PBS.

The camera uses a technique known as Wide Area Persistent Stare, and its capabilities are equivalent to having 100 Predator drones looking down at a medium-sized city at once.

This is an image taken from 17,500 feet.

By touching the screen where the image is displayed, engineers bring up moving images of unmatched clarity. The computer automatically tracks movement (for example, that of cars and people walking) and places them in coloured boxes.

The system can open 65 windows at once. It can see objects as small as six inches square on the ground.

To create the world’s most high-definition camera (while keeping costs down), BAE Systems looked to existing technology, namely mobile phones.

The ARGUS system combines 368 small cameras and imaging chips.

Unlike the Predator, which has a very limited field of view, ARGUS can fly over a huge target area, capturing live video.

As pictures are taken, they are streamed back to the ground and stored. That is more than one million terabytes of video per day.

Whether it has been deployed in the field remains classified, but the system has universal compatibility. Here, it is seen attached to an armed Predator.

And here, underneath the long-range platform called the RQ-4 Global Hawk.

But it might see most of its use under a development craft called Solar Eagle, a UAV which may be able to stay in the air for years at a time.

VIDEO: Drone ‘spies’ on Mountjoy, and the Facebook and Google offices

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