Surface Forces: February 6, 2005

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The U.S. Navy is energetically pursuing a crew reduction program, including reducing time spent on one of the most labor intensive chores; standing lookout. Lookouts are particularly needed these days for security while a ship is docked, or at anchor offshore, at a foreign port. The key to doing this with fewer sailors is the use of smarter cameras. Security cameras are common in port areas, and on some commercial ships. The navy is also using day and nigh-vision cameras on its new USV (unmanned surface vessel), a remote controlled, fast (80 kilometers an hour) 16 foot long Sea Fox. The new program calls for automating ships by placing surveillance camera in many areas, so crews can check conditions in different parts of the ship without going there. A new wrinkle is pattern recognition software, working with  high resolution digital cameras. Such software can quickly identify many different shapes. Such cameras, or thermal imaging cameras, would enable one sailor to monitor many cameras on the ship, without having to constantly scan all the images. If the pattern recognition software detected something it was programmed to look for, like a small boat (perhaps with a bomb on board) approaching the ship, the sailor on watch would immediately double check, and sound the alarm if it did appear to be a threat. Such systems would allow even small ships to have a larger number of lookouts than if it had to depend on sailors. Historically, even after radar was invented, sharp-eyed lookouts often detected dangerous items in the water, and averted disaster. Digital video cameras, equipped with pattern recognition software, can see further than any human, and through night and fog, and recognize a wider variety of shapes as well. There are, however, ways to deceive the camera/software combination. The navy can only protect itself from the deceptions by discovering them before terrorists do, and adjusting the software. 

 


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