VIRAT, MITRE’s Military Streaming Video, Is Even Better Than Hulu

DARPA, in concert with MITRE, is working on a sophisticated video and photo streaming service that would transmit data from remotely piloted aircraft in real time during flight. It’s pretty extraordinary work.

MQ-9 Reaper plane

DARPA called up MITRE, perhaps the most mysterious of our 50 Most Innovative Companies, to help vet possible contractors for VIRAT, the Video and Image Retrieval for Analysis Tool. Says a senior official at MITRE, “VIRAT is about getting critical video content to the right analyst at the right time.”


VIRAT is seeking to embed video and photo hardware into unmanned planes like the MQ-9 Reaper. Planes like the Reaper are remotely controlled, so there needs to be a pretty high-speed and competent way to get video feeds of any relevant action delivered to someone who knows what to do with that information. From MITRE: “The goal of VIRAT is to enable an analyst to rapidly find an action (in which direction was the convoy heading?) or event (where did an explosion occur?) either from a video archive or in a real-time stream during live operations.”

But it goes even further than that. The system should be able to associate with past data, and improve with more user feedback.

The MITRE team is also developing a test environment that will interface with each of the vendor’s systems to automate the evaluation. “We’ll test whether the system can alert an operator in real-time, and whether it can look through an archive of video to find similar events,” Fine says. “We’ll also assess how the system improves with user feedback, and how quickly it can learn to detect a new, never-before-seen event. The test environment will calculate key program metrics, such as the probability of detecting an activity and the false-alarm rate per hour.”

MITRE, as always, doesn’t make any of this equipment. They figure out what’s needed, communicate between the military and the manufacturer, and pick out the right product for the buyer. This is a really cool project, one that feels more approachable because it deals with elements we’re all familiar with (search, streaming video, archival integration). And, the Reaper is a super cool-looking plane. [Ed: Do fear it, actually].

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco (no link for that one–you’ll have to do the legwork yourself).

About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law