back to article UK's Watchkeeper drone 'can see footprints through cloud'

UK military robot spyplanes due to be fielded in Afghanistan within two years are fitted with radar so sensitive, according to its makers, that it can detect not only individual people moving about on the ground - but even the footprints they leave in the dirt. The Watchkeeper in Israel, where most of the tests thus far have …


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  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @but even the footprints they leave in the dirt

    Now if only it could tell if those were the footprints of a 12ft fire-breathing evil terrorist or just somebody on their way to a wedding - before dropping bombs on them. Then it might have some use.

    1. MonkeyBot

      Or more importantly...

      Can it tell the difference between a dozen guys going north all stepping in the footprints of the guy in front and the couple of guys travelling south with extra pairs of boots attached to broom-handles?

    2. fatchap

      Not everyone

      Not after they have had their legs shot off by a depleted uranium shell they don't!

    3. Marvin the Martian
      Thumb Up

      Unusual patterns.

      I was thinking along the same lines: this will be the best birthday- and other parties detecting machine ever.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The future?

    So in 10-15 years will we be seeing The Reg articles on how councils are (mis-)using their watchkeeper to spy on people not picking up their dog's poo.

  3. Luther Blissett

    Posted in physics

    This would be the nu 21st century political physics?

  4. Bruce Ordway

    drinking-straw sensor

    Will somebody please elaborate on the term "drinking-straw sensor".

    I think I understand what is meant by the context, but I've never heard this term before.

    Thanks in advance

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Dringing straw sensor

      Traditional cameras can only be looking in one place at once, which means that if your looking at something in one very small place, you can't be looking somewhere else meanwhile.

    2. frank ly

      re, drinking straw

      Having a very narrow field of view so it seems like you are looking through a drinking straw.

    3. Nexox Enigma


      """Will somebody please elaborate on the term "drinking-straw sensor"."""

      That means you get a high-zoom, narrow field of view sensor.

      Imagine watching your neighbor's house w/ a good sized telescope - you can get a nice crisp view of what's happening through one window, but if you've picked the wrong one you might just stare at nothing for a couple hours, while an all-girl topless pillow fight breaks out in full view of another window.

      So you get a wide angle sensor to tell you where to aim the drinking straw sensors, so that they don't require as much luck to be useful.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        "while an all-girl topless pillow fight breaks out in full view of another window"

        Well there goes the concentration, thanks a lot! :-)

    4. I didn't do IT.

      Re: Drinking Straw

      The idea is that it is a very fine, narrow field sensor, typically a camera. This (usually) means that it has very good magnification, but can only view a very small patch of ground.

      Due to the speeds/time involved, it would not be very useful to survey a large area with one of these...

  5. Rogerborg

    That's nice, dear

    Bet it still can't distinguish between a column of insurgents and a wedding party though.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "Bet it still can't distinguish between a column of insurgents and a wedding party though."

      Nothing that a few £100m more on the radar can't cure.

      1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

        Technical term

        I believe that the technical term for this is "colateral damage".

        Of course the damage is much greater once videos of it are on youtube!

      2. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

        Yeah but....'s probably cheaper to keeping bombing them and fork over a bit of compensation, though.

  6. Anonymous Coward


    Being able to detect footprints is all fine and well...though this has the reek of the same sort of bullshit statements from last century, like "Satelites so powerful you can read a newspaper from space".

    In other words it's actual value is very low, because:

    a) the signal to noise ratio will be high

    b) you need to tie this into a "holistic" inteligence model for it to be reliable enough to be sure you're targeting terrorists, and not some school field trip (or wedding as per YAAC poster above). And we don't have that. Not in a joined up way at least.

    Having said that, it won't be wasted tech because Arnie and his terminator pals will be deploying the future generations of these with slightly less restrictive mission parameters. Ie they'll be set to autonomous "kill every f*ing thing that moves", so footprint detection will be a good thing. For them at least.

  7. Graham Bartlett


    Not currently - but it's only a matter of time. The capability is all there - the UAV can do it, and the equipment is all set up for it. Whether the MOD go for it is another matter. And of course it's undeniable that other UAVs are are already out there and working.

  8. Ken Hagan Gold badge


    ...or even the footprints of a cow. Anyone for a BBQ?

  9. david willis

    Sensitive Radar

    Is it as sensitive as the Nimrod Radar, which could pick up every car moving on every road for 200 miles, thus swamping all the on board processors and making the system completely ineffective?

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Not so sensitive

      Or is it not so sensitive, like the AWACS; which ignores "unwanted clutter from traffic", thereby also ignoring low-flying aircraft (the ones trying to move around under normal fixed radar, something that the flying radar is supposed to compensate for)?

  10. Shady

    Give it another 10 years....

    ....and the government will be using them to enforce parking and traffic laws

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Cannot comprehend master

    It's hard to comprehend the psyche behind such sheer evil. Are they human or some sort of impostor?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

      You have to ask? These people are making good money and probably believe they're contributing to national security and keeping the population safe & secure and all that old tripe.

      It's only after everyone is safely secured in a government-required straitjacket that they will notice they've squandered their own freedom too, though by then it's too late to fix it. Or perhaps they believe they'll have a plum position up top free from mandatory governmental straitjacketing and/or the connections to make it feel more comfy.

      Believing your own bullshit and getting it reinforced by a fat paycheque does that to people. At the risk of invoking Godwin, the Germans were far from the only ones to get to know the effects of this "groupthink" thing. Just to name a few: micros~1 with their corporate culture (``look how much we "help" the people'' while destroying innovation after innovation), the military-industrial complex (and again very fat paycheques), communism (and cosy positions and exclusive shops). Self-interest in Sauce de Virtue is a potent psychedelic drug.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Footprints you say...

    “Lord, you said once I decided to follow you, You’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

    The Lord replied, “My son, my precious child, due to my extreme religious beliefs and possibly beard, those footprint tracking Watchkeeper drones don't make it as easy as it used to be to take a stroll along the beach!"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "but look on the bright side", he said

      "for, my child, at least you didn't step in any dog poo the government knew about!"

  13. Anonymous Coward


    Aren't we a wonderful species, eh?!

    We laugh at the funny animals, they spend all day, eating, pooping and, well you know other things! What does the human race do? Makes machines that can tell if some off us, that may or may not be up to no good, have walked over a piece of ground!

    Tell me again, who are the stupid ones?

  14. Anonymous Coward


    It's all very well to say that they can just "bolt-on" some weapons, but that is what killed the Pheonix.

    It met it's spec and objective, _until_ someone changed the spec, and just bolted on a new set of optical sensors on the bottom. This then meant that it weighed more, and needed larger wings, also increasing the mass. Then the engine power was increased to cope with this.

    Of course, this also meant that it couldn't land the correct way up because that would damage the new sensor pod they just stuck on the bottom of it, so it also needed to be able to fly inverted. This also increased the power demand, so a larger engine had to be fitted, and the wings grew again.

    This is a shortened version of events. There was not just one change, but several over a period, each having knock-on effects. The eventual thing that died was a lot different from what it started out as.

  15. Jon Double Nice

    I think it would be a lot better

    if they painted a smiley face on the front of it.

  16. PT

    How long?

    "... to be fielded in Afghanistan within two years ..."

    So they don't expect to withdraw from this futile waste of lives and money anytime soon, then.

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