Military Struggles to Make Sense of Drone Video Archive

Another Flood of Data, but Agencies Struggle to Analyze it

American drones are all over the place. In addition to the ones lobbing an ever growing number of missiles into North and South Waziristan, there are drones in Iraq, there are drones all over Afghanistan. They all have cameras, they all take video.

But unlike the security video at the convenience store, they don’t just keep recording over the same 6 hour VHS tape over and over again. All that video is stored, carefully archived, sorted.

This enormous (and growing) number of drones is taking more videos every day, adding to that archive, an endless sea of videos of dusty terrains, shadowy figures, empty hills and identical houses.

The military has it in their head that this intelligence could be of potentially enormous value, and so it continues to collect it. The analysts, however, are struggling to wade through all the largely irrelevant data hoping to find patterns for insurgents, evidence, and anything else that might be of use.

The Air Force is spending $500 million on a computer system that they hope will make sense of this, highlighting the important clips and filtering out the meaningless videos.

But every drone has a camera, and when there’s a camera, they may as well take a video. But newer drones have 10 cameras, all taking videos, and future ones will have 30+ cameras. It seems likely then that the computer systems will forever be struggling to catch up as the number of videos grows, and officials will be forever hoping that the next big breakthrough will finally yield some usable data.

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Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of