Drone Spying Capabilities Are About To Take Another Huge Leap

ARGUSA computer generated animation of the ARGUS system.

Photo: LiveLeak (courtesy of PBS Nova)

The fleet of drones that police our skies are about to get an upgrade.Developed by the defence Advanced Research Projects Agency and BAE Systems, The $18.5 million Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System (ARGUS) program will be the most advanced surveillance system in the sky.

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 screen grabs from a PBS documentary feature lead BAE engineers saying this is the first time they’ve been granted permission to show ARGUS’ basic features.

He designed ARGUS, which boasts a camera capable of producing 1.8 billion pixels. That makes it the highest resolution camera in the world.

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

It fits inside this pod that then gets attached to the belly of a UAV, but no photos can be shown of the actual camera itself.

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.

Here's an image taken by ARGUS from 17,500 feet. The wide view is interesting, but the capabilities revealed when zooming in are absolutely incredible.

By simply touching the screen where the image is displayed, engineers bring up moving images of unmatched clarity. The computer automatically tracks movement and places them in coloured boxes, like cars and people walking as you see here.

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

To create the world's most high definition camera and keep costs down, BAE systems looked to existing technology: cell phones.

One is opened up to reveal a small camera and imaging chip. The ARGUS system combines 368 of them.

Unlike the Predator with a very limited field of view, ARGUS can fly over a target area and capture live video from a huge area.

As pictures are snapped, they are live-streamed back to the ground and stored -- over 1 million terabytes of video per day.

Whether it has been deployed in the field remains classified, but the system has universal compatibility. It can be attached to an armed Predator (seen here).

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

The Air Force controls many of the drones over the skies of Afghanistan.

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