New 'urban beat cop' surveillance system to keep military operators out of harm’s way

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In an urban (non-combat) environment, information is typically collected by local law enforcement officers who are “walking their beat,” officers can become familiar with areas of the city by observing, interpreting and understanding what they see on a daily basis.

Air Force expeditionary forces in Afghanistan requested a system that would give them similar situational awareness in Afghanistan villages and other remote areas, but without human participation or requiring them to “walk a beat.” So, the Air Force and a small business partner recently developed and tested in the field a small unmanned aircraft system, or SUAS, that allows U.S. military forces to perform strategic reconnaissance while staying out of harm’s way.

Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation in Manassas, Virginia, developed an “urban beat cop” intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system, called Skate, with Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, funding from the Air Force and Navy. The Skate system is portable, adaptable, and easily modified for more effective field use, making it an ideal technology to meet the demands of the battlefield environment.

“Skate is a force multiplier that provides the warfighter with immediate eyes-on-target and real-time situational awareness,” said Douglas Szczublewski, the Air Force program manager.

The Skate system includes real-time streaming video and infrared imagery; an intuitive, hand-held user interface; and the ability to hand-launch while in confined areas. A variant of the system offers a capture hook for automated launch and recovery, and charging from power sources on the ground. Skate is currently being marketed for a variety of applications, including use by law enforcement groups.

Successful field trials of the technology provided important data for future development of the system, increasing endurance, durability, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, capabilities.

Based on additional feedback from users in the field, a follow-on program was initiated to provide a low-cost SUAS capable of operation in two operational flight modes, fully autonomous and manually controlled.

Additionally, personnel asked that the system offer vertical takeoff and landing or fixed wing flight, carry full-motion video payloads in day or night, and be compact, lightweight and easy to maintain, without the use of special tools or unique support equipment.

“Aurora is pleased that Skate is providing the warfighter with ISR capabilities not routinely available for small unit operations,” said Mark Cherry, Aurora’s chief executive officer. “Skate provides outstanding situational awareness to protect our warfighters and enhance their operational effectiveness.”

Aurora Flight Sciences develops and manufactures a variety of advanced unmanned aerial systems. The SBIR program has enabled the company to develop and transition several innovative technologies for military use.