BBC, US Army: The A160 Hummingbird helicopter-style drones with 1.8 Gigapixel color cameras are being developed by the US Army promising "an unprecedented capability to track and monitor activity on the ground".
A statement added that three of the sensor-equipped drones were due to go into 1-year trial service in Afghanistan in either May or June 2012 as a part of a Quick Reaction Capability, an acquisition approach aimed at delivering cutting-edge and emerging technologies to theater. The army developers and engineers are now finishing up some wiring work on the A160 aircraft and performing ground tests with the ARGUS sensor suite.
Boeing built the first drones, but other firms can bid to manufacture others. The 1.8 Gigapixel ARGUS-IS camera is developed and manufactured by BAE Systems.
The army said that was enough to track people and vehicles from altitudes above 20,000 feet (6.1km) across almost 65 square miles (168 sq km). In addition, operators on the ground can select up to 65 steerable "windows" following separate targets to be "stared at".
DARPA is also working with the UK-based division of BAE Systems to develop a more advanced version of the Argus-IS sensor that will offer night vision. It said the infrared imaging sensors would be sensitive enough to follow "dismounted personnel at night". In addition, the upgrade promises to be able to follow up to 130 "windows" at the same time. The system's first test flight has been scheduled to take place by June 2012.
Thanks to CDM for the link!