DARPA Is Building A Drone That Can Tell What Color Shirt You’re Wearing From 17,500 Feet

Get ready for an insane leap forward in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology, courtesy of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

For the past few years, DARPA has been working on a system called ARGUS-IR, or Autonomous Real-Team Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance – Infrared, which can take video over an area that is so super high resolution — 1.8 gigapixels — it would take a fleet of 100 Predator drones to produce the same images.

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A PBS documentary last year explored the program, which uses hundreds of cell phone cameras linked together into a sophisticated rig. Mounted underneath an RQ-4 Global Hawk for example, ARGUS could loiter over an area at 17,500 feet and capture images as small as six inches square on the ground, effectively being able to tell the color of the shirt you are wearing.

It’s pretty incredible — and somewhat scary — stuff.

Here’s how DARPA describes it:

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.

In July, the Air Force made the first step toward making ARGUS a reality with the implementation of the Gorgon Stare Increment 2 pod on the MQ-9 Reaper.

DARPA Argus drone

Photo Credit: LiveLeak (courtesy of PBS Nova)

Here’s the view from an ARGUS system from 17,500 feet. It can capture a very wide area.

DARPA Argus drone

Photo Credit: LiveLeak (courtesy of PBS Nova)

When an operator wants to zoom in, the system places boxes over cars, people, and other objects and tracks them in real time.

DARPA Argus drone

Photo Credit: LiveLeak (courtesy of PBS Nova)

Now check out the PBS Nova documentary on the project:

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