Kestrel automated object detection – strengthening the value proposition

Published on: September 2021

For the Law Enforcement (LE) community there’s no longer anything new about employing aircraft, Electro Optic sensors and even Unmanned Aerial Systems, or UASs.  

Some Law Enforcement agencies have been using combinations of these surveillance and pursuit tools for more than 40 years, and an entire industry now serves their needs.  

Now we’re seeing an operational desire to detect and track objects over video. An Australian company, Sentient Vision Systems, has positioned itself to meet this emerging need. Sentient, which is based in Melbourne, Australia, manufactures Kestrel, a full-motion video processing software that automatically detects and tracks very small, moving targets within the sensor’s field of view. More than 3,000 Kestrel systems are in operational use world-wide, fitted to manned aircraft and UASs. 

Put simply, Sentient is helping to improve mission effectivenessreduce operating cost and overcome obsolescence. Sentient’s new Kestrel Server product, is a small, ruggedized solution that addresses the need for an off the shelf product that can be easily mounted onboard, making integration faster and more affordable.  

At just 2.2lb (1Kg) the Kestrel Server is an all-in-one solution with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) that provides the proven Kestrel MTI (Moving Target Identification) capability that can be used with existing Electro Optical and Infrared (IR) sensors and airborne mission systems.  

Kestrel has proved its worth to the LE community: it provides a significant wide area search capability and up to 20 times increase in surveillance area by analysing EO/IR sensor imagery frame by frame and automatically detecting moving targets in real time.  It indicates potential targets of interest that would otherwise be too small to be seen by an operator, or that are ambiguous. 

Kestrel tracks objects as they move and, if commanded, leaves a ‘bread crumb’ trail showing a record of the suspect’s movements – and that could be an individual on foot in a crowd, or a vehicle on a busy street or freeway.  

To help overcome the cost challenges facing LE agencies, Kestrel expedites the search for objects and makes every flying hour more productive by reducing operator fatigue and task saturation whilst looking for suspects, which in turn reduces fuel costs, aircraft maintenance time and crew hours.  

Traditionally, a trained operator would have to flick between Wide and Narrow Field of View (WFOV and NFOV) modes in the primary sensor whilst examining the EO/IR monitor for objects of interest. This is tiring, no matter how well trained and experienced an operator might be. Operator fatigue can lead to missed targets and gaps in the search area.  

With Kestrel enabled the software examines every pixel within the camera’s FOV and automatically alerts the operator to any moving targets, such as vehicles and people – the operator can select the targets he or she wants to monitor. This increases tactical situational awareness, maximises the effectiveness of the sensor’s WFOV and allows operators to cover a wider area with much greater freedom to choose and designate the targets to be followed.  

Kestrel receives the sensors’ embedded geolocation metadata within the video stream and provides the end user individual object detection locations. The operator can then pass on the size, speed and direction of a target and its movement history to other ground and airborne assets or for forensic, evidentiary and prosecution action.  

As a software-based enhancement, Kestrel’s physical impact on sensors and mission management systems has always been minimal. Integration and user training have been simple and conducted by Sentient’s own field teams with onsite support at the customer’s location if required.  

Kestrel has been in service long enough for Sentient to know that its products need to work with both new and legacy sensors and mission management systems.  

Therefore, Sentient has developed its new Kestrel Server product with that quality in mind. The Kestrel Server is a near turnkey solution for LE operators which integrates Kestrel imagery analysis software into a small Size, Weight and Power (SWAP) computer weighing just 2.2lb and configured for high resolution image processing.  

Its output can be displayed on a standalone basis: the Kestrel GUI acts as the mission management system and operator screen on anything from a carry-on laptop to a high-end operator’s console. Or it can interface directly with an aircraft’s existing mission management system and be displayed through the system’s own operator screen.  

The Kestrel controls in the user interface remain. They allow the operator to implement the EO/IR zoom, apply digital zoom and track targets of interest which will display a user-defined target history in real time whilst maintaining full situational awareness of the greater search area in the sensor’s Wide Field of View (WFOV). 

The net result is faster, cheaper installation and integration and less vulnerability to hardware obsolescence. And, more importantly, Kestrel’s performance will further improve as periodic software updates become available.  

The important things for LE agencies are mission success and management of costs. Sentient Vision Systems has maintained its focus on the former, while doing some lateral thinking to tackle the latter.