Bio-inspired algorithm helps UAVs track moving targets

Nov. 30, 2016
Researchers at RIT and Scientific Systems Company are using software algorithms to help UAVs track moving targets.

Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT; Rochester, NY) and Scientific Systems Company (Woburn, MA) have developed a biologically inspired tracking algorithm that helps unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) identify and track moving targets from their imaging data.

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Tracking of targets within aerial footage is becoming increasingly important, for example, as the applications of UAVs continue to expand in applications such as film production, mining, news media, and agriculture. Moreover, the world's security agencies are gathering enormous amounts of UAV video data, from which they are looking for events of interest, including suspicious vehicles. When such vehicles of interest are found in the data, the users would often like to use a UAV to follow the vehicle over time. Online visual tracking is therefore required for these endeavors, and the videos of the events can then be studied by a human analyst. Tracking ground vehicles in UAV video streams is especially difficult, however, because there is usually only a relatively small number of pixels on the target (compared with other tracking problems), and because the targets can change drastically in appearance (due to changes in lighting conditions, UAV altitude, and perspective).

To tackle these challenges, the researchers, motivated by the neural circuits that underlie smooth pursuit, created the smooth pursuit tracking (SPT) algorithm to track problems in aerial video data. In this method, they combine the object appearance with motion and predicted location information to improve tracking. Although primates using smooth pursuit are limited to the tracking of one object at a time, their SPT algorithm we can easily track multiple objects simultaneously (with little computational overhead).

To learn more about how the algorithm works, go to:

The research reported in this article was supported in part by the US Naval Air Systems Command, under contract N68335-14-C-033. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the sponsoring agencies.


About the Author

Gail Overton | Senior Editor (2004-2020)

Gail has more than 30 years of engineering, marketing, product management, and editorial experience in the photonics and optical communications industry. Before joining the staff at Laser Focus World in 2004, she held many product management and product marketing roles in the fiber-optics industry, most notably at Hughes (El Segundo, CA), GTE Labs (Waltham, MA), Corning (Corning, NY), Photon Kinetics (Beaverton, OR), and Newport Corporation (Irvine, CA). During her marketing career, Gail published articles in WDM Solutions and Sensors magazine and traveled internationally to conduct product and sales training. Gail received her BS degree in physics, with an emphasis in optics, from San Diego State University in San Diego, CA in May 1986.

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