Military

WatchStander is made to keep the pirates at bay

WatchStander is made to keep t...
The "head" of the WatchStander system, incorporating a video camera and a 12 million candlepower spotlight
The "head" of the WatchStander system, incorporating a video camera and a 12 million candlepower spotlight
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The "head" of the WatchStander system, incorporating a video camera and a 12 million candlepower spotlight
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The "head" of the WatchStander system, incorporating a video camera and a 12 million candlepower spotlight
The view from WatchStander's camera, along with a radar image of suspicious vessels being tracked
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The view from WatchStander's camera, along with a radar image of suspicious vessels being tracked

Today's ships are equipped with radar systems that let them identify other ships from a distance, and while that works well enough for collision avoidance, those systems aren't the greatest at detecting small watercraft ... such as the low-slung skiffs often used by pirates. That's where WatchStander comes in. It's a radar system that's designed to pick out such boats, and then deter their crews before they can attack.

WatchStander uses shorter radio wavelengths than a ship's standard radar system, which is what allows it to detect smaller watercraft that are up to 2 miles (3.2 km) away. Using artificial intelligence software developed at Penn State University's Applied Research Laboratory, it then tracks those boats and watches to see if any of them exhibit "antagonistic behavior" – this could include approaching the ship at high speed, on an intercept course.

If any of them do so, the ship's crew will be alerted via visual and audible alarms, plus WatchStander's high-intensity spotlight will be shone at that boat. The light serves to both disorient the possible pirates, and to let them know that they've been spotted, and have therefore lost the element of surprise.

The view from WatchStander's camera, along with a radar image of suspicious vessels being tracked
The view from WatchStander's camera, along with a radar image of suspicious vessels being tracked

Should the vessel continue to approach, the spotlight will go into a more disruptive strobing mode. If things progress further, other possible non-lethal countermeasures that could be used include sonic and laser deterrents, or pepper spray projectiles. The integrated video system also records the entire encounter, for future reference.

The system is autonomous, with the ship's WatchStander unit(s) automatically panning and tilting to stay trained on the suspect vessels. This means that the ship's crew can take refuge if wanted. They can override the system if it becomes clear to them that a boat doesn't pose a threat, or they can likewise declare a vessel to be a threat, if they realize it is one before the system does.

Source: WatchStander via New Scientist

13 comments
Paul van Dinther
Really! Flash some lights, play a buzzer and as the ultimate a laser pointer? I can hear the pirates laughing from here. Stick a self propelled grenade on that thing. Then you got something they will pay attention to.
Slowburn
Saying "Hi we see you and recognize you as a threat so please go away so we can both have a nice day." is only a deterrent if you can totally ruin their day by say gunfire.
Stradric
There are a variety of reasons why these ships' crews don't carry guns. High insurance premiums is one. The cost of training the crew how to use and maintain the weapons is another. There are also issues when carrying weapons into other countries. Also, starting an arms race between ships and pirates is not going to have a positive outcome. Of course having an armed crew would certainly solve *some* of the problems, but the net result seems to be a negative one. Non-lethal deterrents are the tools of a smarter and more civilized age.
pmshah
Talk about industrial espionage ! I read several years ago that Indian Navy had developed a variation of radar that could skim the water and go around the curve of the earth to detect similar small objects far beyond the horizon ! What I fail to understand is reason for providing permanently fixed steel ladder on the outside of the ship in spite of knowing the threat of piracy in modern times. It is the same as providing unrestricted usb port access in high security environments ! Dumb in my opinion !
sk8dad
Using this as a guidance system, a ship be armed with multiple water cannons that can coordinate their streams to one point to swamp the boarding vessel and/or knock would be pirates off the ladders.
Stephen N Russell
Test on merchent ships, OK crew to be armed. & add other devices to shake pirates IE sonic booms, etc & mount on USCG cutters alone near US waters.
Daishi
part of the problem is the somali government doesn't do anything about it. The captains of these ships can't be reasonably asked to duke it out in a gun fight with pirates. 90% of Somali piracy occurs out of 2 well known ports and their leaders live in huge mansions but the government isn't willing to do anything about it and the other countries aren't willing to take military action against those ports. Navies can't possibly patrol all the water so ships are continually placed in harms way. The pirates themselves are aware of this so they do not harm crews as a matter of policy because doing it would provide the justification necessary for nations to take military action against them. Putting an end to it is currently in the hands of the Somali government but pirates bring wealth to the country so they turn a blind eye to it (like Nigeria and 419 scammers). In both nations crime is the biggest industry. Somali bosses pull in ~$2mil/year and are basically celebrities.
Slowburn
@ Stradric How does making being a pirate dangerous have a bad end.
PaulYak
I truly don't understand WHY, we have to treat pirate murderers, torturers with "kid gloves"! Yes it is nice to know they are coming to get you, but what you really going to do against a determined military trained bunch of armed men on faster boats UNLESS you have firepower of some kind to deal with them. Not saying merchant men should have to deal with it. It is why we pay for navies to protect our countries (trade), isn't it?
Jay Finke
@ sk8dad I like the water canon idea, there is unlimited ammo, i think that a 4 inch cannon would do the trick. 1000-1500 gallons per minute, and there swimming or treading water, and if they make it back, there going to tell there palls about there encounter with a 4 inch water stream.