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Dubai Airshow 2021: UAE to host ViDAR centre of excellence

20th November 2021 - 09:35 GMT | by Leonid Nersisyan in Dubai

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Sentient Vision Systems claims interest in the Middle East for ViDAR SCAR-equipped AW139s for search and rescue operations (pictured is an HM Coastguard AW139 in the UK). (Photo: Sentient)

Will the ViDAR SCAR reconnaissance pod make an impact in the Middle Eastern ISR market?

Australian company Sentient Vision Systems used the Dubai Airshow 2021 to announce the creation of a UAE-based centre of excellence for integrating visual detection and ranging (ViDAR) technology.

Richard Glyn-Jones, director of business development at Sentient, told Shephard that the trilateral initiative also includes Airborne Technologies of Austria and UK firm Phoenix Aerospace. The centre will focus on introducing the day/night ViDAR Self Contained Aerial Reconnaissance (SCAR) pod to the UAE market.

The ViDAR system is essentially an optical radar with a 180-degree field of view for autonomous detection. It can be installed on helicopters, fixed wing aircraft and UAVs.

Comparing ViDAR with conventional radar, Glyn-Jones claimed that the Sentient system is able to find any object, including rubber rafts and even a single person lost in sea, which is not possible for radar. A person in the water can be found from a distance of 1.7nmi and a 40ft-long fast boat from 17nmi. The system can monitor larger areas of ocean in comparison to traditional EO/IR pods.

In a military context, Glyn-Jones noted that the Sentient system is passive, thereby aiding stealth ISR missions. At the same time, the scanning process is autonomous: video from multiple very high-resolution cameras is processed by a computer using AI algorithms. The operator only receives a thumbnail image and a pin on a map of located targets or objects of interest.

‘We worked just with ScanEagle for five years. And now we're moving into the wider UAV market.’Richard Glyn-Jones, Sentient Vision Systems director of business development

Sentient reports interest from a few potential Middle Eastern customers in a ViDAR SCAR-equipped AW139 for search and rescue operations by day or at night (UAE Joint Aviation Command already operates this helicopter type). Sentient is providing the software, while other partners work on hardware. Partnering with Airborne Technologies was important as the Austria company already received certification for the SCAR pod.

Asked whether there is interest from the UAE in using ViDAR SCAR to detect Iranian high-speed boats, Glyn-Jones said that this task is within the capabilities of the system.

The only UAV platform with a ViDAR pod installed is the ScanEagle UAV operated by the US Coast Guard, but Sentient also offers an ultra-lightweight pod (1kg compared with 20kg for other pods) that was specifically designed for integration with any uncrewed aircraft. The bigger pods include 13 cameras whereas the UAV pod has fewer.

‘We worked just with ScanEagle for five years,’ Glyn-Jones said. ‘And now we're moving into the wider UAV market.’

Sentient also produces Kestrel EO/IR video software for object movement detection on land, which Glyn-Jones said can work with any camera.

‘We have over 3,000 [Kestrel] systems deployed... And it's used in the UAE now. Kestrel is compatible with any platform with a FLIR or Wescam-type turret. The UAE widely uses it on the Blackhawks… for military or law enforcement,’ Glyn-Jones said.   

Using Kestrel with standard cameras has one drawback – the field of view is quite narrow. In response, Sentient developed ViDAR Land with a much wider area of coverage and the ability to detect a human-sized object on the ground from 12,000ft altitude.

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