Geek Tweaks Bomb-Spotting Eyes in Sky
By Noah Shachtman November 19, 2007 | 11:45:00 AMCategories: Bomb Squad

Detecting roadside bombs from the air has been a notoriously tricky process. In August 2004, for example, the U.S. military deployed satellites, high-flying U-2 spy planes, and 16 surveillance drones to stare at a 20-kilometer stretch of road from Baghdad to Balad. The idea was to spot any improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, being planted on the critical route. Despite hundreds of thousands of pictures taken, not a single bomb was found.

But an Army electrical engineer, Joshua R. Fairley, has figured out a way to improve the detection rate of those eyes in the sky as much as 75 percent, according to the Washington Post.

Drone watching and engaging Insurgent planting a IED

"What we are trying to do in our work is to inform our commanders on what are the most optimal sensors to use, given the environment, weather conditions and time of day, that would lend itself to the best opportunity to detect that kind of threat," he said.

Fairley, 34, was honored this month with the Pentagon's David O. Cooke Excellence in Public Administration Award, given annually to an up-and-coming civil service employee who is dedicated to improving programs in the Defense Department...

In his work, Fairley used computers to develop a virtual environment similar to what pilots see when they are in flight simulators. Fairley's virtual world recreated rural and urban scenes in three dimensions, featuring highly detailed images of walls, buildings, vehicles and other objects, and accurately rendered soil, asphalt and concrete.

He then took the characteristics of sensors, which are deployed on aircraft and in space, to scan terrain for explosive devices and put them into his virtual world, collecting data on how they worked under different weather conditions and even the time of day.

That allowed him to develop a formula that gauged the accuracy of those airborne sensors. The process essentially reduces the number of times that the sensors trigger a false alarm, helping troops on the ground be more effective in finding or avoiding IEDs...

Above: footage of a drone catching bomb-planters in the act.