Navy zooms in on imagery intelligence

Technology that has delivered high-definition television to tens of thousands

of "Monday Night Football" fans may soon furnish the military with digital

imagery intelligence.

Through a partnership with Silicon Graphics Inc. and SGI subsidiary

Alias Wavefront, the Navy Research Laboratory plans to harness the next

generation of TV technology to capture high- resolution digital images from

moving video clips. Soon, imagery intelligence analysts will be able to

capture images from near-real-time video streams and process, annotate and

store that imagery for use by senior decision-makers.

The project uses SGI's Video Acquisition and Exploitation System to

capture still images from high-definition video cameras. VAES includes Alias

Wavefront's Maya Composer image editing software application, as well as

an SGI Onyx2 workstation with a video graphics adapter to HDTV capability.

Although Maya Composer has been used throughout the entertainment industry,

the company has developed specialized plug-ins for use in the intelligence

community.

"We're trying to pull our people off of proprietary government systems,"

said Henry Dardy, chief scientist for Advanced Computing at NRL. "The real

goal is to give people an intuitive interface so that the imagery can be

displayed in the way you want to interact with it."

The NRL effort, known throughout the lab as "motion imagery," started

two years ago when NRL entered into a research consortium with the National

Security Agency, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Panasonic, Polaroid

and other companies to develop the first studio-grade progressive scan camera.

Unlike interlaced scans, where odd and even rows of video data are scanned

as separate fields, progressive scans capture all lines in the image one

after the other. The Defense Department chose to focus its efforts on 1,280

pixel-by-720 pixel resolution progressive scan technology, as opposed to

interlaced video, because it delivers the best image at the lowest practical

bandwidth.

With progressive scan technology, "every frame is one complete image,"

said Kirk Kern, system engineer specialist at SGI's Government Technology

Center. That means the new technology does not require analysts to "de-interlace"

the image, assemble separate video image fields into a single frame for

still imagery and then remove any flaws.

The software also offers an intuitive user interface that limits training

requirements. "People immediately start to interact with [the imagery] as

if they were there," Dardy said. "It's not something that we have to explain

to them."

Jeff Meeker, application engineer at Alias Wavefront, called the Maya

Composer software application "the Swiss Army knife of the motion picture

industry." Unlike other electronic light table software, Maya Composer allows

imagery analysts to scrub through terabytes of data in a short time, and

it provides tools to conduct movement tracking and analysis. In fact, security

officials recently put the entire package of hardware and software to work

during the return of controversial Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker to

Shea Stadium in New York. HDTV technology and Maya Composer's movement-tracking

tool allowed officials to scan the stadium for potentially dangerous activities.

Navy officials are planning to incorporate the technology into the next

generation of unmanned aerial vehicles, which operate in limited bandwidth

conditions. UAVs proved their worth as a remote-controlled intelligence

and reconnaissance asset during the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo. However,

the camera developed by the NRL consortium to do progressive scan image

capture remains too heavy for use in the current fleet of UAVs, according

to officials. Design work is ongoing, however, to shrink the camera down

to an acceptable size for use on UAVs.

"We tried to simulate what a UAV would do," Kern said, who demonstrated

the camera's image-capture ability on the maiden voyage of Fuji Phot Film

Co.'s airship. "I think that's happening right now in the commercial marketplace,"

Dardy said. Soon, however, camera technology will improve to camcorder-like

imagery capability, he said.

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