Pirates are funny when they’re portrayed by a rum-soaked Johnny Depp. In real life, however, they pose a serious problem, with around 160 ships and 4,000 sailors affected by pirates in the last decade. Last year, three American tourists were killed by Somali pirates after an unsuccessful raid by Navy SEALS.
Keeping tabs on ships in any section of the sea is no easy task, let alone busy coastal areas with tons of commercial traffic. That’s why the U.S. Navy has decided to enlist the help of robots to root out pirates.
This summer, the Office of Naval Research will test out a new device called a Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker, which uses high-definition cameras, infrared cameras and laser-radar technology (a.k.a. LADAR) to identify small boats on the water. The new sensor will be outfitted on Fire Scouts, unmanned helicopter drones that can take off and land on Navy ships.
The idea is to send these mid-range drones out to autonomously surveil the surrounding waters. All of the data they collect will then be analyzed by software against a database of schematics to identify potential targets.
Usually, when a ship is hijacked by pirates, sailors have to sift through hours of surveillance footage to pick out possible offenders. If it works like it’s intended to, this new system will allow the Navy to both collect more information and process it faster.
It will initially be tested with manned helicopters on the California coast before seeing any action in foreign waters.