Don't Look Up: DARPA Sees All With 1.8-Gigapixel Spy Camera

By Jordan Mammo email: , Jan 29, 2013 01:23 PM EST

I know Barack Obama's first inaugural address was four years ago and, like, we've pretty much moved on, man, but let's think back to that for a moment.

At the time, photographer David Bergman took a massive photo dubbed a "gigapan." Comprised of 1,474 megapixels, the shot could be zoomed in so much as to display the facial expression of virtually anyone facing the camera's general direction. From Michelle Obama's smiling face to George W. Bush's sour expression, the photo was a remarkable portrait of a historic moment.

Now imagine surveillance technology slowly getting closer to that, too... from 20,000 feet up in the air.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has unveiled a new surveillance camera capable of identifying people in virtually any outdoor setting. According to Engadget, the camera "can spot a six-inch object within a ten square mile radius from 20,000 feet in the air." Facial expressions can't really be captured yet (surely it's only a matter of time), but details like the color of one's clothing can be spotted easily.

Continuing DARPA's penchant for wonderfully apt names, the camera is called the ARGUS-IS, which is both a reference to the mythical "all-seeing" Greek god and an acronym for something less cool: Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance - Imaging System. Quite the mouthful, but understandable considering the camera is packing 386 sensors that are each the equivalent of the 5-megapixel cameras seen in smartphones. These cameras combine to form a resolution of 1.8 gigapixels. ARGUS streams 1 million terabytes of information a day, which equals 5,000 hours of high-definition video, and lets those monitoring the system operate 65 separate windows of footage simultaneously.

Outside of this info, DARPA is being pretty tight-lipped about the device. The agency won't detail any potential use in the future, nor will it even say whether the camera has been used at all in recent conflict. Attached to a drone, however, one could imagine ARGUS enabling military pilots to spot enemy combatants extremely easily. Monitoring activity between, say, potential nuclear sites in Iran could be another use.

It's been an interesting week already for DARPA, which on Monday announced another project relating to new spy technology. The agency intends to develop chips and sensors that could literally dissolve at a certain time or on command. It's even looking into the possibility of developing chips that could be implanted in and absorbed by the human body. I bet that would make James Bond turn green with envy.

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