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US military chokes on stream from robots' fat pipes

'Swimming in sensors and drowning in data'

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A lack of decent software means that information harvested from unmanned aerial drones in Afghanistan is not being used properly.

The military is deploying thousands of these pilotless machines in Iraq and Afghanistan but is hamstrung by a lack of resources to properly deal with all the video footage created and by interoperability problems between different drones.

Lt Gen Deptula, USAF deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, told Defence Industry Daily: “We are going to find ourselves in the not too distant future swimming in sensors and drowning in data.” In 2009 US drones recorded 24 years of video footage - newer drones are expected to increase this by a factor of 30 by 2011.

The US Air Force flies 39 24-hour drone missions every day over Iraq and Afghanistan - this will go up to 50 by 2011.

The problem is likely to get worse with the introduction of wide-area sensors to Reapers initially followed by other drones.

The US military is also working to get drones working on the same platform. At present Predator ground control units, for example, can only deal with information from Predator drones.

The Pentagon wants one system to control and harvest data from any of its unmanned vehicles.

The US Navy has been talking to sports broadcasters to help it deal with the same issue. Sports clips are tagged with descriptions, or meta-data, to make final editing of highlights easier.

Another solution being examined by the Navy is "data fusion" - adding geographical information to existing video footage to make it more usable. ®

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