Sentient shows game changing ViDAR at Xponential

Published on: April 2018

ViDAR optical radar turns tactical UAS in to wide area search tool

Sentient Vision is at Booth 1105 at AUVSI Xponential 2018 to showcase its game changing ViDAR (Visual Detection And Ranging) optical radar system, which gives tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) their first true search capability, and the ability to cover up to 80 times more ocean in a single sortie than the same UAS equipped with existing EO/IR systems.

At Xponential Sentient will also display a new podded version for larger unmanned aerial systems, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.

The ViDAR system is now credited with turning tactical UAS aircraft from point surveillance assets to search and maritime patrol assets. ViDAR has been extensively tested on the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle tactical UAS, including formal trials and operational deployments with the US Coast Guard, Royal Australian Navy, European Safety Management Agency and UK Unmanned Warrior exercise and is in service with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Australia’s national search and rescue agency, aboard its new Challenger 604 SAR aircraft.

The Sentient Vision ViDAR (Visual Detection And Ranging) system is a light, compact self-contained unit comprising a forward facing high-resolution digital video camera that pans through 180 degrees, and software that analyses the resulting image feed to detect objects against an ocean background. The system autonomously detects, tracks and photographs objects, transmitting the image in real time to an airborne sensor console or laptop ground station where operators can then cross-cue the aerial platform’s primary electro-optical sensor to the contact by simply clicking on the image.

It is integrated to the ScanEagle as a “slice”, an extra fuselage module that fits naturally between the UAS’s existing nose and wing sections as it is assembled for flight. The system is self-contained and requires no other modification to the host UAS.

Through ViDAR, Sentient Vision has created an “optical radar”, offering the track-while-scan, wide area surveillance capability and interrogation functions of traditional radar with an optical system that emits no energy, minimises data transmission requirements to ground stations and uses a simple graphical interface that also allows users to slave an aircraft’s primary sensor to any desired contact with the click of a mouse.

With ViDAR, tactical UAS systems previously relegated to watching contacts detected by other means can now be effective wide area search assets in their own right. “Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems such as the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle have traditionally imaged the ocean surface through small, narrow swathe digital cameras, a tactic often described as ‘looking through a soda straw’,” said Sentient Vision’s Director of Business Development, Strategy and Partnerships, Simon Olsen.

“So small tactical UAVs in the maritime surveillance space have generally only been used to keep an eye on surface contacts detected by other means. “But in numerous major trials and operational deployments we have now demonstrated that ViDAR can provide a detection capability for the ScanEagle, that we can autonomously detect targets in the ocean in real time and provide a cue back to the operator. For the first time we’ve demonstrated that a tactical UAV with ViDAR can search vast expanses of ocean and autonomously detect very small targets at large ranges.”

In a September 2016 USCG trial ViDAR detected a 40-foot boat moving at 25 knots, at a range of 17.7 nautical miles. The system also detected a life raft at 3.7 nautical miles and the USCG “Oscar”, a mannequin designed to represent a person in the water, at 1.5. nautical miles. ViDAR has detected an airborne helicopter at 3.5 nautical miles and the periscope of a submerged submarine at 7.5. “At the tactical level ViDAR reduces the workload for sensor operators and increases the probability of a successful contact, particularly on long and intense sorties,” Olsen said. “Its ability to detect and display objects in the water that may not be readily visible to the human eye reduces a sensor operator’s workload, allowing them more mental acuity to manage the mission and maintain situational awareness.

“But at the strategic level ViDAR has the power to change acquisition decisions in hardware and aircraft, to change capability mixes,” he said. “Offshore patrol vessels previously dependent on shore-based aerial surveillance can now deploy their own. What could previously only be accomplished with a manned aircraft can now be accomplished with a tactical unmanned aerial system, and missions that previously needed large aircraft can now be accomplished with smaller, more cost-effective airframes or helicopters.

“ViDAR brings wide area maritime surveillance and detection within the reach of operators for whom this type of capability was previously outside the realms of technical possibility. It combines the most effective capabilities of both radar and optical sensors, without the limitations of either.”


Sentient Vision Systems develops and deploys computer vision solutions for defense and civil applications. Since 1999 Sentient has specialized in video analytics with a primary focus on the development of automated detection software for full motion video. With over 1,000 systems deployed, Sentient’s solutions enhance the performance of EO/IR operations for many agencies and forces worldwide.


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