Mobile Eagle Eye Tower Systems See Threats From Above
Of all of the vehicles one encounters at this year's largest motorsports event, one doesn't expect that the one hanging around, attached to a guide wire, quietly floating along inconspicuously, is there to watch you and the 400,000 or so enthusiasts gathered to watch the spectacle on the ground.
At this year's INDY 500, held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a new surveillance tool was deployed, tested, and passed its first major hurdle as an important part of a security and surveillance grid to be used at major crowd gatherings such as sporting events and street fairs. Street cameras, cop cars, helicopters and foot patrols are generally what this terrestrial platform helps to stitch together and develop a clearer understanding of the security challenges that exist today in an age of potential terrorism and terrorist acts.
The blimp airship developed and deployed by Raytheon features cameras and infrared sensors developed through military contracts for applications associated with battlefield surveillance is being adapted to aid in civilian applications of security and event research if a hostile act were to occur.
The fastest vehicle at the INDY 500, in terms of identifying and neutralizing a threat that would disrupt the action on the ground, may actually be hanging above the crowd, observing and sensing the action as it happens.
Raytheon developed the Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment (RAID) Mobile Eagle Eye tower systems (in 2007) to protect U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. The adapted civilian application of this technology is now being tested and deployed [ctrl-click for b-roll video from Newsweek]. Image Credit: Raytheon Company
This excerpted and edited from Newsweek Magazine -
Eye in the Sky: Raytheon's unmanned blimp at this year's Indy 500
By Kurt Soller | Newsweek Web Exclusive - Jun 11, 2009
At first glance, there was nothing special about the blimp floating high above the cars and crowd at this year's Indy 500 on Memorial Day weekend. Like most airships, it acted as an advertising vehicle; this time for the Fisher House, a charity focused on helping injured veterans and their families. But the real promo should have been for the blimp's creator, Raytheon, the security company best known for its weapons systems. Hidden inside the 55-foot-long white balloon was a powerful surveillance camera adapted from the technology Raytheon provides the U.S. military. Essentially an unmanned drone, the blimp transmitted detailed images to the race's security officers and to Indiana police. "The airship is great because it doesn't have that Big Brother feel, or create feelings of invasiveness," says Lee Silvestre, vice president of mission innovation in Raytheon's Integrated Defense division. "But it's still a really powerful security tool."
Until recently, Raytheon's eye-in-the-sky technology was used in Afghanistan and Iraq to guard American military bases, working as airborne guards against any oncoming desert threat. Using infrared sensors and a map overlay not unlike Google Earth, the technology scans a large area, setting important landmarks (say, the perimeter of a military base), and constantly relays video clips back to a command center. If a gun fires or a bomb is detonated, the airships can detect the noise and focus the camera—all from a mighty-high 500 feet.
After the success of the Indy 500 trial, the company is targeting police departments and sporting facilities that want to keep an eye on crowds that might easily morph into an unruly mob. "Large municipalities could find many uses for this [technology] once we figure out how to get it in their hands," says Nathan Kennedy, the blimp's project manager.
For now, cost might be the only thing preventing a blimp from appearing over your head. Raytheon won't disclose how much the system may eventually cost, but chances are it won't be cheap. For municipalities without a Pentagon-size police budget, the blimps' potential to display ads may assist with financing. Raytheon says local authorities could install a built-in LED screen to attract sponsors, generate revenue and defer operating costs.
So, when it feels like someone is watching you ... look up and smile, you are being watched by that blimp advertising the money you could have saved by switching to ... Geico!