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Sony Developing Gigapixel Satellite Imaging 101

Posted by Zonk
from the hello-up-there dept.
holy_calamity writes "Sony and the University of Alabama are working on a gigapixel resolution camera for improved satellite surveillance. It can see 10-km-square from an altitude of 7.5 kilometres with a resolution better than 50 centimetres per pixel. As well as removing annoying artefacts created by tiling images in Google Earth and similar, it should allow CCTV surveillance of entire cities with one camera. 'The trick is to build an array of light sensitive chips that each record small parts of a larger image and place them at the focal plane of a large multiple-lens system. The camera would have gigapixel resolution, and able to record images at a rate of 4 frames per second. The team suggests that such a camera mounted on an aircraft could provide images of a large city by itself. This would even allow individual vehicles to be monitored without any danger of losing them as they move from one ground level CCTV system to another.'"
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Sony Developing Gigapixel Satellite Imaging

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  • Hmmmm (Score:3, Funny)

    by BiloxiGeek (872377) * on Thursday September 27, 2007 @04:05PM (#20773379)

    This would even allow individual vehicles to be monitored without any danger of losing them as they move from one ground level CCTV system to another.


    Right up until the bad guys in the car they're watching drives into a parking garage. Or they park at a mall, walk inside and change clothes before exiting to escape in a different vehicle.

    The real question here is: Can we get them to stream images from the back yard patio where Jessica Alba is sunbathing nude???

  • 7.5 km? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ogrizzo (23524) <Ottavio.Rizzo@NOsPAm.unimi.it> on Thursday September 27, 2007 @04:09PM (#20773431)
    A satellite flying at 7.5 km of altitude sound quite bizarre to me.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tsu-na-mi (88576)
      That was the first thing that stuck out to me as well. In the actual application, it references an example where the camera, mounted on an airplane, flying at a height of 7.5km, can do X. The writer at New Scientist should have been clearer. Obviously, satellites do not fly at 7.5km altitude -- 75km maybe.
      • by wsanders (114993) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @04:25PM (#20773755) Homepage
        If it has 50 cm resolution at 7.5 km it will have 5000 cm resolution at 750 km, a more reasonable satellite altitude. Not terribly high resolution. So, it's either for wide-angle, low altitude special applications (the haze of the atmosphere is going to limit you to seeing something less than horizon to horizon, and objects close to the horizon are quite a bit further away than those right under you), or "next year's model" will be much improved.

        You could put one on one of them heliostat things, for example, or a solar blimp cruising around at 7.5 km. I for one, blah blah, bug eyed overlords, etc, in their solar powered blimps, et. al.
        • by ksheff (2406)
          that would be more than good enough for monitoring the weather.
        • A gigapixel is about 30,000 pixels square (or some similar number if it's round), so at .5m/pixel, that's about 15km wide. That's an interesting size if you want to do surveillance of a city like New York (well, Manhattan plus Brooklyn and some nearby areas) or San Francisco - Manhattan's 11 miles long, and SF is about 7 miles square.

          So you park a balloon over the city and you can track every car in real time, or launch a helicopter if you're trying to track anybody specific. If cars go 20 mph / 30kph,

        • a 50cm resolution from a satellite isn't even anything new (although it is very expensive to buy the images and they only cover a relatively small area), A few year ago when doing mu undergrad I took a remote sensing course and we played with images taken from commercial satellites with approximately the same resolution (it was a while ago and I don't recall the exact resolution). The High resolution images are available to anyone with a large enough wallet.

          Not sure what is so new about this technology, tho
          • by nebosuke (1012041)

            You're pretty much correct. I just finished downloading another set of Quickbird imagery for work, and the panchromatic imagery has a 60cm/pixel resolution at nadir. It's not even that expensive if you don't require a new collect. Minimum order area from the existing image catalogue will run you somewhere around $400.

            There is a *huge* difference on the digital backend of this theoretical imaging setup, however, as I doubt that Quickbird (or any other non-military sat) can deliver that kind of resolutio

            • Not impressed. (Score:3, Informative)

              by Entropius (188861)
              A Canon 1DS Mark 3, the current speed-demon, comes close. It's got less resolution (I think they're somewhere around 20 MP) and about the same framerate (if you can get the data off the camera onto an SD card fast enough, but rigging up a custom data readout for a satellite isn't that hard.) From the specs quoted in the article (15km square from a height of 7.5km), they're using a seriously wide-angle lens setup on this thing. Sticking a tele lens (70-100mm, probably) on the Canon will probably give you abo
              • by Entropius (188861)
                you can blow up anything you want even more detail on, at the cost of some resolution.

                Should have been "at the cost of some field of view."

                Sorry, brains not working.
        • After looking at the drawing from TFA, it reminded me of an insects eye. But I just can not think of any satellite organization that is going to allow a Sony root-kit [slashdot.org] installed on their machine.
    • by sampas (256178) *
      Given the rapid orbital decay of objects below approximately 200 km, the commonly accepted definition for LEO is between 200 - 2000 km. Put a second-gen Keyhole 7.5km up, and its resolution will be revolutionary, too. So it looks like the resolution is off by factor of at least 26.

      You could put it on an airplane, though. But then again, you can already fly a Cessna at 2000' above a city for a lot less than that new camera will cost. Some city police departments and local news organizations have started usin
    • Re:7.5 km? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 27, 2007 @04:30PM (#20773835)
      I believe that a satellite flying at an altitude of 7.5km is what's referred to as a "spectacular, flaming re-entry"
    • by hsdpa (1049926) *

      The team suggests that such a camera mounted on an aircraft could provide images of a large city by itself.
      Sounds to me like 7.5 km is the altitude for an aircraft, not a satellite.
    • by Stripe7 (571267)
      7.5 km would be a balloon or one of those high altitude solar powered UAV's designed for station keeping
  • by everphilski (877346) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @04:10PM (#20773471) Journal
    but the school is the University of Alabama in Huntsville [uah.edu]. w00t!
    • Yeah, this happens all the time, both with the University of Alabama at Huntsville and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I've even heard of conferences miscrediting a professor's home institution as UA when it's actually UAB in official proceedings. Even when the professor is a member of the committee!
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @04:12PM (#20773509)
    > Can we get them to stream images from the back yard patio where Jessica Alba is sunbathing nude???

    Of course we can.

    Just install this special Betatrac codec. Closed-source only.

    Oh, the Betatrac codec has to handshake with the chipset we use in Vaio line of lapops. Won't work on your Mac, Dell, or white-box PC, unless you buy our Betatrac Vaio USB device, which will permit you to move (and not copy!) one (and only one!) copy of the video to a Memory Stick.

  • for my telescope. In fact, it sounds much like some of the more exotic imaging arrays used by professional astronomers nowadays.
    • The biggest one I know of is the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which is still being designed. They're pushing for a 3.2 Gpixel camera [lsst.org]. Basically, it's an array of 201 16Mp CCDs.

      I was talking to one of the folks dealing with their data infrastructure back in April -- they're expecting 6 petabytes of data per year, and are likely going to have to reformat and reprocess on the fly, rather than store processed and formatted data.
  • by johnalex (147270) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @04:14PM (#20773555) Homepage
    As much as I'd like to claim credit for my alma mater and this project, the authors didn't check the facts thoroughly. The university involved is the University of Alabama in Huntsville, not The University of Alabama. The University of Alabama [ua.edu] is located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and boasts its own ranked engineering programs.

    Let's give the Huntsville program its due.

  • by Chairboy (88841) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @04:16PM (#20773601) Homepage
    Woo hoo! Woo... Woo.... hoo?

    Wait a minute....
  • Could or Should (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Irvu (248207) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @04:19PM (#20773657)

    "The team suggests that such a camera mounted on an aircraft could provide images of a large city by itself. This would even allow individual vehicles to be monitored without any danger of losing them as they move from one ground level CCTV system to another.'"


    True it seems that this, if successful could be used that way and, if it all works as they promise would allow for that kind of monitoring (barring tunnels bridges, garages, etc. What I find interesting is that none of them are asking if the should do this or whether we would be better off if they do. Absent from any sort of new surveillance tech reporting is the question of whether such tech is needed or will help if it is used. You know, the kind of questions that reporters should be asking.

    But then again this article reads like a standard press job where a press release is sent by a vendor to the press, they (sometimes) call up the contact name, and then print the release in full with no backgound or other assessment. It is a basic way of filling a publication without ever leaving the office or reporing hard stuff. It is also, all too common these days, especially in the print media.

    Oh Upton Sinclair, where have you gone?
  • Tin Foil Flat Hat (Score:2, Interesting)

    by garlicbready (846542)
    Does anyone remember that scene in the film the 5th element
    with the guy with a flat hat with a square picture on facing upwards

    I wonder what would happen if you walked around the streets with a grey piece of cardboard cello taped to your head
    would this show up on the camera, or would you just blend in with the rest of the pavement?
    • by hsdpa (1049926) *
      Good idea! I guess that you'll blend in with the ground and maybe look like a slightly miscolored blob (remember: 1 pixel / 50cm @ 4 fps).
    • by Reziac (43301) *
      Imagine if everyone had a certain infamous picture on their headgear....

  • Even at 4 frames per second, that's a seriously large amount of data to downlink. Something like 64 times an HDTV signal with images that would tend not to compress as well as FMV.

    The article doesn't say what they're using for a downlink.
    • Why do you think that this wouldn't compress well? Much of the compression on video is based upon things not changing. If the video is of someone standing completely still while moving only one hand, a good video codec does not need to record much additional data about the majority of the pixels that remain unchanged.

      Now think of satellite imagery. The VAST majority of the landscape will not be changing. The buildings in a city will not get up and move around. This video would be VERY easily compressed, e
    • by kaiser423 (828989) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @05:42PM (#20774873)
      There are already a number of satellites doing hundreds of megabytes a second down-links. You just need a big, sensitive dish on the ground, and a good-sized transmitter. Heck, with XM and Sirius satellites with a 7 meter dish I can easily see 70dB S/N ratios without even pointing it at the satellite. Since you need about 14dB SNR to pass a couple megabytes a second pretty error-free, a signal 56dB (~400,000 time stronger) above that should be able to pass obscene amounts of data. That part has been done before.
  • I have no idea how they plan to recognize faces and license plate numbers. At this resolution, one person in blue shirt and jeans will look just like the other and so will two cars of the same model and color.
  • 'The trick is to build an array of light sensitive chips that each record small parts of a larger image and place them at the focal plane of a large multiple-lens system.
    http://www.specinst.com/ [specinst.com]

    Sounds like the only new thing is that its a gigapixel
  • They had an article about taking the best part from several shots as a new technique to get hubble quality astronomy from ground based telescopes.

    I wonder if they could use the same algorithm to increase the quality of these pictures as well.
  • Military already have satelites with such resolution.
    • by 4D6963 (933028)
      Such resolution, sure, but they can't take a 10x10 km area at such a resolution in one shot.
      • QuickBird, launched 2001, has a 60cm pixel and a swath of 16.5 km. WorldView-1, launched last Thursday, and WorldView-2 (late 2008) have similar swaths and 50cm pixels. The main limit on resolution has been legislative (i.e. U.S. Govt.) and political, not technical. You can't get video from a satellite, of course, because it's in orbit (450km for QuickBird, 770 for WorldView-2 -- orbital period around 90 mins) and only sees the target for a few minutes and anyway each scene is around 2Gb. This Sony camera s
  • by whimmel (189969)
    Sony has found another way to spy on us.
  • Sony is involved, so this must be evil, right?

    Dammit, where did they hide the rootkit THIS TIME?

    • by sankyuu (847178)

      Dammit, where did they hide the rootkit THIS TIME?
      You have to step back a bit to see the big picture:
      It's hidden in plain view! Sony is developing the ultimate Spyware!

      Now if it only dropped exploding batteries, or fired a Bluray of Death...
  • Hate to break it to you, but they'll still have to tile images together.
  • The trick is to build an array of light sensitive chips that each record small parts of a larger image and place them at the focal plane of a large multiple-lens system.

    Oh, you mean a digital camera? Definitely sounds tricky...
  • by mahju (160244)
    Astronomer: "I found a new flaming Comet!"
    Geek: "nah that's just one of the Sony powered satellites"
  • Does this mean that the aeronautical market will be flooded with surplus black helicopters?
  • by Whiteox (919863)
    I'm just waiting for the Toshiba version to come out.
    I'm sure it will be competitive....
  • Wonder what encryption Sony will standardize for this one and how long it'll take for all the satellite studios to agree to it.
  • How about strapping a few gigapixel cameras to every airliner with a little computer box along with it saving the images and using the on-board navigation systems to figure out the coordinates of in the image. That ought to provide plenty of imagery - well up-to-date! You could even create animated maps and see how the world is changing!
  • Not sure what fantastic Satellite they are thinking of using, but anyone who has ever used any of this type of data knows it it total bunk.

    Unless there is some ultra secret, spy Sat that is far and beyond what exists commercially, but at this point I doubt that.

    If you can call taking a snap shot every year or month so "surveillance"... so just stand it the same spot for say months.

    I can assume you can re-task satellites, however from what I can tell, no easy task. Remember these things are either in orbit (
  • > It can see 10-km-square from an altitude of 7.5 kilometres with a resolution better than 50 centimetres per pixel.

    Still not good enough for Alyssa Milano's large-diameter areolae. Cut it by ten -- 5 cm should be sufficient.
  • Big brother is coming, and we're all cheering for it...
  • Take a look at The Giga Pixel project [gigapxl.org]. It is not aerial but have a resolution better than 50cm/pixel.

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