AI-powered monitors to defend Washington DC against aerial threats

Replaces surveillance systems installed after 9/11 - and years before drones became a threat

The Pentagon will upgrade the air surveillance technology it uses around Washington DC with a computer vision system that can identify and warn officials of suspicious objects flying around or near the capital.

The system, built by computer vision vendor and first-time defense contractor Teleidoscope, uses sensors and machine learning algorithms to identify and track objects. The Pentagon will use the tech in the protected airspace around DC, which is covered by special flight rules that require air defense operators to identify, locate, and control aircraft flying within the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area to protect national security.

Lieutenant colonel Kurtis Engelson, materiel leader for Battle Control Systems, which oversees the National Capital Region [NCR]- Integrated Air Defense System, said the upgrade will improve air defense operators' ability to spot aerial intruders.

"It's a cutting-edge surveillance, identification and tracking system that monitors and defends the controlled airspace around Washington, DC, part of the National Capital Region-Integrated Air Defense System," he explained in a statement.

The National Capital Region-Integrated Air Defense System, working under the North American Aerospace Defense Command, protects airspace around the USA’s capital city. If it detects an aerial threat, the Pentagon launches its air defense systems – if it has enough time to do so. The Teleidoscope system will replace the air surveillance and warning system that has been protecting the region since the 9/11 era. The upgrade is hoped to speed response, an important improvement given the advent of drones since previous defenses were installed.

The Department of Defense awarded Teleidoscope a $100 million contract to manufacture its air defense cameras this month, after it completed an 18-month prototype phase. The computer vision firm’s technology uses a mixture of electro-optical and infrared sensors to track moving targets.

Engelson explained that the technology leverages "market advancements in machine learning and augmented reality features in surveillance cameras that assist air battle managers with their ability to identify flying objects within NCR airspace."

The AI-powered computer vision system reportedly delivers a "tenfold increase in performance" compared to previous systems, thanks to an ability to recognize, identify, and issue warnings of suspicious aircraft compared to the technologies currently in place.

Teleidoscope's software will automatically analyze video feeds but can also be installed on edge devices. The Department of Defense is also exploring its capabilities to operate on drones to identify and defend against other threats – like unmanned aerial systems or cruise missiles.

"We are able to rapidly identify operational needs and materialize them into usable national defense solutions," said Heidi Shyu, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. "This saves time and money, but more importantly, the decision advantage gained by technologies like this will save lives." ®

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