TECHNOLOGY IN SYSTEMS
Video and Display Technology Get Smarter
Embedded Video Takes Airborne Surveillance to New Heights
New, intelligent displays and versatile controls make law enforcement surveillance more automated and more capable of quickly indentifying, locating and isolating objects of interest.
CHRISTIAN STEWARD, CURTISS-WRIGHT CONTROLS EMBEDDED COMPUTING
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There is a revolution underway in airborne surveillance video. We are experiencing a huge proliferation of digital video camera sources and increasing demand for high definition displays, moving maps, video uplinks/downlinks and video recording/playback/archival options. As a result, today’s video management systems for airborne police services are becoming much more sophisticated and powerful in ways that hold the potential to make every member of the flight crew significantly more effective. With unprecedented levels of data now available, the world’s leading surveillance authorities demand a video management system that makes processing this intelligence second nature.
But as digital video data and viewing options increase so does the amount of video that needs to be distributed and recorded. An example of a rugged, complete video management system designed to meet the unique demands of today’s digital video-based airborne surveillance is Curtiss-Wright Controls’ Skyquest VMS. The Skyquest VMS is currently deployed by leading police forces around the world, in over 20 different countries and across six continents, including Australia’s Melbourne Police Law Enforcement, the U.S. National Guard and Army’s Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) Fleet, Allied Forces in Afghanistan and the French and German Military. In London the VMS is the choice of the London Metropolitan Police’s (LMP) airborne law enforcement team.
In the sky above London the LMP has deployed Skyquest VMS on its fleet of EC145 helicopters, making these helicopters some of the most advanced air support units in the world. Each helicopter is fitted with five Skyquest mission displays and multiple recording decks. The VMS serves as the heart of the surveillance system. The EC 145s use a triple sensor camera system that feeds an HD camera, low-light and infrared video pictures into the aircraft, which can then be displayed on any one of the five mission screens. The onboard crew typically comprises two police officers and a pilot. One police officer, acting as an air observer, is seated in the rear of the EC 145 and takes on the role of tactical commander (Figure 1). This officer is provided with two 15-inch mission displays. These identical screens can display images from any of the camera sensors and a moving map. The operator can control replay of what has been recorded and receive uplinked video via an intuitive but powerful touchscreen-based man-machine interface.
The tactical commander has control of two displays at the rear of the aircraft. These can display any selection or combination of video data coming into the system.
The aircraft’s front left seat is typically occupied by a forward observer who operates the camera system, navigates to the task, and assists the pilot with flight checklists and other tasks. The forward observer is provided with a 10-inch fully functional mission display with the same capability as the two in the rear. There is also a fold-down 10-inch mission display mounted on the ceiling, which is typically viewed by the police officer in the rear of the helicopter, but can be rotated and viewed from any position. The EC145’s pilot is supported with a screen that easily folds away for takeoff and landing. Once airborne the pilot has access to all of the video imagery on the aircraft.
The VMS’s friendly man-machine interface lets the operator select, manipulate, store and forward video with a minimum of system overhead. All of the operator’s displays in the VMS can show four different video input sources combined into a single integrated quad screen. The touchscreen controls enable the operator to expand out to full-screen size any of the individual windows. An operator no longer needs to search for a particular video feed of interest, or has to know the precise name of that feed, before selecting it for display (Figure 2).
Images appearing on any of the smaller quad displays can be brought up on the larger screens in any combination.
With its support for quad multi-screen display, the VMS enhances situational awareness for its users. For example, in one window a wide angle sensor feed can be viewed, in another window a narrow angle image can be displayed, while in another window infrared imagery can be shown. In addition, a moving map system can provide the location of the aircraft and the vector to the target. This provides complete situational awareness on a single display screen. Typical earlier video systems supported only one video source at a time, limiting the useful video to 1/3 of the video data being captured by the three-mode camera. The system’s quad display enables 100% of the aircraft’s camera sensor video to be used simultaneously.
Letting the Operator Decide
Great flexibility is provided to the operator, enabling him to decide in real time which images to display and where to place them on the screen. The placement and size of the individual windows can be easily rearranged, so that, for example, map systems can be viewed side by side, and recorded video information from storage can be displayed on one window next to live incoming video feeds. Individual window video feeds can be frozen and then made dynamic again with a single touch. Also, each display supports zoom in and out of the image on screen.
The VMS is capable of integrating with multiple computers commonly used in surveillance aircraft for such tasks as automatic number plate recognition, and as part of the VMS can be operated via the display touchscreens or integrated keyboard. The VMS also supports the use of a QWERTY keyboard and mouse, to augment the touchscreen controls. The keyboard can be used to control an integrated moving map or a connected PC.
Powerful Data Storage Capabilities
The VMS’s digital video recorders make it possible to collect and easily remove evidentiary video for storage and analysis. Images from all video sources and any screen configuration can be recorded, rewound and played back at any screen, by any operator during flight or on the ground for post-mission analysis. These images can also be sent to a downlink for onward transmission via microwave transmitter to the ground or to other aircraft. Conversely, mission data can be uplinked to the aircraft the same way.
Video recording can be controlled via the display keys or the recorders themselves, allowing the operator to decide when to start and stop the recording. The crew can choose exactly what to record or what to send to the downlink. Previously, these functions were hardwired to a specific source and could not be changed. In fact, any one of the crew can control the recording process from any one of the aircraft’s mission displays. Previously, a secondary remote control unit was typically mounted in place and accessible to only one operator, limiting control of the video recording. The video data is recorded on solid state CompactFlash memory cards. Unlike spinning hard drives, these memory cards are impervious to shock and vibration. Each card can have the storage capacity of a DVD or Blu-ray Disc, and can be easily removed from the system, fitting in a flight suit pocket, to make data backup fast/economical.
Rugged Displays Feature Dual-Mode Backlighting
Curtiss-Wright’s dual-mode backlit rugged LED displays can be utilized as part of the VMS. Traditional display backlight systems have been based on cold cathode ray tube illumination. That technology requires high voltages and doesn’t work very well at low temperatures. In addition, the color degrades over time, getting dimmer the more it is used. The latest Skyquest LED displays provide wider color gamut/range and can run cooler because they are solid state, with no degradation of light performance over time.
Another advantage of LED displays is that they are more rugged: mounting glass tube and shock breakage issues go away. They can also be used to create different lighting regimes for different application areas such as the dual backlighting for night vision goggle filtering.
The dual backlight option utilizes two alternative sources of backlighting behind the LCD array, one to provide optimized high brightness and high contrast lighting in daylight conditions, and a second to provide very low amplitude night vision goggle (NVG) compatible lighting. This means that the full color presentation of map and warning information can be provided while at the same time maintaining 100% compatibility with NVG, enabling both goggles and head down viewing of the displays simultaneously without conflict or compromise in performance.
Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing