U.S. Army researchers improved on the service’s 3-D terrain mapping system by reducing the system’s weight by 250 pounds and making the BuckEye operational from drones. Now they are developing a capability allowing the system to collect data from higher altitudes, covering a larger swath of land and considerably improving the technology’s efficacy, Michael A. Harper, director of the Warfighter Support Directorate at the U.S. Army Geospatial Center, says.
The High Resolution 3-D Terrain Data system is a multipurpose platform supporting requirements for collection of unclassified geospatial data for terrain mapping. BuckEye operates on manned and unmanned aircraft and consists of a 60-megapixel color camera working in conjunction with the Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) system to provide the high-resolution data.
“We spent some research and development dollars on trying to reduce the size and weight … Traditionally, it’s 350 pounds, but we significantly reduced it to a 100-pound payload to go into an unmanned aerial system,” Harper says, adding that troops operate two BuckEye unmanned aerial systems now in Afghanistan.
Army engineers too are working with industry to improve the capability tenfold. Currently, the BuckEye system scans and collects data from about 100 square kilometers per four-hour mission. “With BuckEye 2, which is what we refer to the prototype as, we’ll collect about 1,000 square kilometers in that same time period. By increasing the power of the laser, you can fly from a higher altitude, and when you go to a higher altitude, it improves your swath of the ground,” says Harper, who declined to name the company collaborating with Army researchers until the prototype and testing are complete sometime this fall.