WASHINGTON — The U.S. military over the last five years has deployed a host of new unmanned aerial systems to help keep deployed forces safe with persistent video surveillance. But the development of the ground systems for exploiting this windfall of new data has lagged behind.
The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has spent the last several years developing standards to inform the design of systems to collect, analyze and distribute this information. With several proof-of-concept demonstrations under its belt, the agency is now poised to begin fielding some new video-analysis tools to troops over the next one to two years, said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Joseph Smith, military deputy at NGA’s sensor assimilation division. He would not comment on any specific acquisitions or say which companies are developing these tools.
The new tools will enable the NGA to comply with language in the U.S. Senate’s 2010 Intelligence Authorization bill that would require the agency to develop a system for collecting, analyzing and disseminating full-motion video, Smith said. The House of Representatives has not yet passed its version of the bill. The Senate bill says NGA’s archives contain mostly imagery from satellites and aircraft and are nearly devoid of full-motion video. Smith said the archive includes millions of minutes of Air Force video streams, although the tools are not yet in place to make this database easily searchable.
“We do have the capability to search for full-motion video in the NGA archives,” Smith said. “But it’s very rudimentary and it doesn’t give you that YouTube look and feel, where you type in a few keywords and locations and pull up a list of videos.” NGA’s goal is to put tools in place that meet the needs of different types of users, he said. For example, a solidier in the field equipped with a laptop computer may only need to do a quick search for video of a certain place at a certain time, while analysts working back at NGA headquarters in Bethesda, Md., may want to do more comprehensive searches.
The NGA recently completed a yearlong study called the National System for Geospatial-Intelligence Objective Video Architecture that looked at ways the agency can improve its handling of full-motion video. One of the recommendations was to improve the systems that can autonomously add descriptive, searchable key words called metatags to video streams. Another called for the ability to retrieve just the part of a video that a user is looking for.
“Today, we take streams of video and chunk it into one-minute, three-minute, five-minute clips and move them around as video files,” Smith said. “That has a heavy impact on our communications networks. It also means that if you want 15 seconds of video, and it happens to be at the end of a six-minute clip, you’ve just wasted five minutes and 45 seconds looking for what you want.”
Many things the U.S. military and intelligence community want to do with full-motion video are already happening in the broadcast television industry, said Lucius Stone, director of government solutions in the broadcast division at Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla.
“What we are doing for the major television networks like CNN, Fox and CBS is helping them collect content, manage content, tag it so they can find things, and repurpose the content to distribute it to people on a variety of devices, even cell phones,” Stone said. “The workflow of a broadcast network is pretty similar to those in the military and intelligence community, it’s just done for a different reason.”
Harris has been working with the military for the last five years on a variety of small-scale video management systems, Stone said. Harris developed a system for the Army combat training centers to help them collect and analyze training video feeds from more than 60 sources, and last year the company delivered its first video management systems to combat areas, Stone said.
In addition to the development of more advanced algorithms for metatagging, the things NGA wants to do with full-motion video are going to require new hardware development, said Guy DuBois, vice president of operational technologies and solutions for Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems of Garland, Texas. Raytheon developed the NGA’s system for distributing commercial satellite imagery.
“Clearly the NGA is going to need more pipes, and my guess is a lot of that bandwidth will have to be satellite-delivered,” DuBois said.