“The U.S. Army is getting ready to deploy a trio of prototype A160 Hummingbird drones as it evaluates the aircraft for a more full-fledged development program. One key characteristic that sets these unmanned air vehicles apart from others, such as the Predator, already more famously serving in the war zone is that the Hummingbirds are rotorcraft–that is, they fly like helicopters rather than planes.
The Hummingbirds will be equipped with DARPA’s Argus-IS sensor system, which features a 1.8-gigapixel color camera–gear that the Army a year ago described as “the largest video sensor ever used to conduct tactical missions.” The Army said at the time that Argus can track people and vehicles from altitudes above 20,000 feet and, attached to an A160, should be able to scan almost 25 square miles. It will allow operators to scan a wide field of view and download images in real time.
Here’s more on the cutting-edge capabilities that Argus offers:
This represents a big technological leap over current airborne surveillance systems…Those that deliver high-resolution images are limited to very small fields of view…and those covering broader areas provide low-resolution imagery.
In addition, ARGUS-IS operators on the ground can designate “windows” around up to 65 specific sites or targets they want to monitor. They can choose buildings, road intersections or other fixed locations the system will “stare” at, or people or vehicles to trail, even if they’re moving in different directions.
“And if you have a bunch of people leaving a place at the same time, they no longer have to say, ‘Do I follow vehicle one, two, three or four'” [Argus program manager Brian] Leininger said. “They can say, ‘I will follow all of them, simultaneously and automatically.'”
Excerpt from “Hummingbird robo-drone gets 1.8-gigapixel camera” by Jonathan Skillings (CNet, 27 December 2011)