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Farnborough 2018: Eyes that police the skies

9th July 2018 - 12:00 GMT | by Helen Haxell in London

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Police investigations into criminal activity require hard evidence for prosecutions and law enforcement agencies (ALE) operating from helicopters need to provide clear, stable shots from the EO/IR cameras they employ. This is a commitment industry is making through technological advancements.

One such company is Controp which manufactures the iSky-50HD a surveillance payload system. The iSky-20HD and iSky-50HD EO/IR payloads have been ordered by the Israel Police and are to be installed on its new helicopter fleet.

Whilst numbers were not revealed, the Israel Police took delivery of two new Airbus Helicopters H125s in 2016 and the aircraft replaced the police’s current Bell 206 fleet.

Ra'anan Shelach, VP of marketing and sales at Controp, explained to Shephard the capabilities of the payloads for police missions: ‘high resolution improves images in low visibility penetrating through dust and haze.'

The iSky portfolio complements the law enforcement requirement for 24/7 mission surveillance, he added. 

With its fully gyro-stabilisation, the iSky adds to the accuracy of evidence that police need to present in criminal investigations, according to Shelach.

‘Stabilisation is in high demand. The iSky can stabilise in line-of-sight to prove in court the crime – if the video is shaking [that is not good enough],’ he added. 

The turret of the iSky-50HD weighs just under 30kg, incorporates a full zoom camera and thermal imaging with 720mm focal length.

Controp's iSky EO/IR camera payload being utilised for a surveillance mission. (Photo: Controp)

L3 Wescam, manufacturers of the MX-10, has seen similar demands from ALE operators and Cameron McKenzie, VP of global sales and business development at the company, explained that the EO/IR system can offer an HD low light camera which ‘employs amplification technology similar to that used in night vision goggles’.

He said further, that moving maps and data links being integrated have helped ALE operations nodding to the work of the MX-10 in this regard: ‘By integrating an MX-10 sensor with a moving map, the situational awareness of the operator and aircraft are multiplied exponentially.’

The MX-10 weighs in at 16.8kg and its diameter is 26cm. He confirmed that more than 113 different law enforcement agencies are using products from the MX portfolio from over 30 countries.

Meanwhile, Trakka Systems’ products have experienced a strong footprint in the airborne and maritime law enforcement arenas with the company claiming more than 70% of its systems are used for these missions.

Echoing similar thoughts to Shelach and McKenzie respectively, Glen Rowling, VP of business development at Trakka Systems, talked of the absolute necessity for clear visibility to be presented through the payload systems. 

The company has the EO/IR camera known as the TrakkaCam and the TrakkaBeam searchlight, which according to Trakka is the only searchlight on the market with multispectral capability. Rowling explained their pairing relationship enforces police operations through the modes of detection and surveillance.

Trakka Systems' TrakkaMaps TC-300M. (Photo: Trakka Systems)

Trakka also has the TC-300 multi-sensor stabilised surveillance system which  ‘enables the ALE users to fly higher and safer while maintaining the clear imagery of the suspects on the ground,’ according to Rowling. 

Along with the TrakkaMaps TM-100 mission mapping and video management system, the suite was chosen by the Washoe County Sheriff in the US for its Bell OH-59 Kiowa helicopter in March 2018.

‘The TrakkaMaps TM100 augmented reality, 3D mapping and video management system provides the law enforcement assets with the ability to react quickly to steer the TC-300 and TrakkaBeam searchlight on target providing essential situational awareness for both ground and air agents.’

‘The video recording capability in the TM100 allows the operator to record multiple high definition video streams from the TC-300 with embedded metadata for post analysis with a single touch of the screen or keyboard.’

In August 2017, MD Helicopters was tasked to deliver a custom-configured MD 530F helicopter to Virginia Beach Police. Its equipment for low-light operations will include high-contrast rotor blades, a FLIR Star SAFIRE 380 HDc EO/IR system, TrackBeam A800 searchlight and a NVISB interior.

It is due to be delivered in 2Q 2018. Adam DeAngelis, marketing director for surveillance at FLIR told Shephard that law enforcement agencies tend to have shorter purchase cycles compared with military and government customers.

He added: ‘EO/IR technology has become a standard piece of equipment in most airborne law enforcement cockpits today. However, the main challenge isn’t necessarily related to the technology but rather how to limit the information saturation for operators. More and more capability is being introduced into the cockpit quickly and causes information saturation.’

Simplifying the data presented to ALE operators is the next challenge facing payload manufacturers with the hi-res data they can provide. What is key is ensuring it is presented quite literally in plain sight and not lost in the wealth of information gathered.

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