Kestrel – clear vision from urban clutter

Published on: December 2017

Kestrel Law Enforcement detects and highlights moving people and vehicles to ease a sensor
operator’s workload.

Kestrel detects, marks and tracks moving targets

Ask a law enforcement officer their priority on first attending any emergency or potential crime scene, and their response will invariably be about situational awareness.

Situational awareness is critical for determining whether a scene is safe, for deciding next steps and estimating the level of resources that may be required from law enforcement or emergency services.

What happened? Is the incident still in progress or is the area secure? Is the scene safe for law enforcement personnel and the general public? Who was involved and where are they now? If
an offender is escaping the scene, how and in which direction are they travelling?

Determining all this is difficult enough for an officer at street level. It is even more of a challenge for airborne law enforcement, arriving over a specific section of a huge patchwork quilt of a city and expected to pick up the trail of an escaping suspect amid jumbles of buildings, trees, vehicles, people and all the paraphernalia of a modern metropolis.

And while modern electronic surveillance such as infra-red and daylight TV cameras help officers see in conditions where the human eye cannot, success or failure can still come down to an exhausted sensor console operator distinguishing between moving pixels on a screen in a dark, noisy, swaying helicopter cabin, an exercise one operator described as akin to “playing Where’s Wally on a roller coaster”. It’s a game with a time limit: helicopters gulp fuel at the higher power settings needed for slow flight and hover.

Every operator would ideally have another crew member looking over their shoulder, tracking a single contact on the screen in order not to lose sight of them in the clutter.

Australian company Sentient Vision now provides that extra pair of eyes. But they are in the system, not in the cabin.

Sentient’s Kestrel moving target indicator system is a software package born on the battlefield, with more than 1300 now in service with customers such as the Australian Defence Force, US Marine Corps and US Homeland Security Department.

It can operate as a standalone system or become part of an aircraft’s or vehicle’s mission suite. It interrogates the digital feed from sensors such as infra-red and daylight TV cameras, scanning down to an area as small as two pixels square. Any moving object such as a person, animal or vehicle is immediately highlighted to the operator with a red bounding square, immediately making their position and movement stark against what may be a muted background. From there the operator can click to select contacts to be tracked, zoom in for a closer look and even tell Kestrel to mark the path along which a contact has travelled while in view of the sensor, like a trail of breadcrumbs. It’s that simple, and autonomous.

But it’s more than a real-time tactical tool. Kestrel detects and tracks, but it also records, allowing operators to review and disseminate information about object movements, complete with latitude
and longitude coordinates and timecode to provide evidence at the level required in a court of law. With Kestrel configured for loading on airborne and land systems, operations centres and even laptops, any law enforcement agency receiving the feed from the cameras of a deployed vehicle, aircraft or UAV will see the same cues on what is moving where.

The test of a good surveillance system is whether it helps law enforcement platforms operate more effectively. Kestrel’s automated detection lowers the workload for sensor operators, particularly
over dense urban environments. It can help mitigate the sensory overload that comes from a “target rich environment” and fatigue.

But more than this, automatic identification and tracking means helicopters and UAVs on covert surveillance can stand off to reduce the chance of being spotted by the target of interest. Its ability
to detect objects down to just a couple of pixels in size means operators can “zoom out”, covering a larger area with a given sensor.

By identifying both alleged offenders and law enforcement ground assets airborne operators can direct one to the other. The breadcrumb tracking facility can help delineate a vehicle of interest from merged traffic by showing the route each vehicle has taken to reach that point. It can also show that a suspect apprehended after a pursuit was previously at the crime scene. And all of the collected data can be reviewed on laptops at the scene in order to ensure all loose ends are tied up before law enforcement closes an incident.

The beauty of Kestrel Law Enforcement is that operates through “Plug And Play” Standard Windows, off-the-shelf software. It is also available as an API for Windows and Linux that can be seamlessly imported into surveillance systems. It is automated and intuitive, meaning operators need little training in order to become proficient.

Kestrel is already in use with the UK National Police Air Service helicopter fleet, integrated with CarteNav’s AIMS-ISR® on-board mission system.

“Whether it is detecting suspects, counter terrorism or general patrol operations, Kestrel Law Enforcement adds a critical cost effective real time automated detection capability,” said Simon
Olsen, Director Business Development, Strategy and Partnerships for Sentient.