Software first used by the Air Force to correct and stabilize wide-area surveillance video will now be released commercially as the civilian use of drones and satellite video expands, MotionDSP, Inc., the firm behind the software, said this week.

Ikena WAMI (wide-area motion imagery) uses algorithms to automatically enhance the clarity of blurred video streaming from aircraft, drones or satellites. The automatic process previously took groups of squinting analysts hours to manually review and process, said MotionDSP’s founder and CEO Sean Varah.

Video shot by the Air Force is corrected in real time. Photo: MotionDSP.
Video shot by the Air Force is corrected in real time. Photo: MotionDSP.

With the ability to cover an 8,000×8,000 area, WAMI was first envisioned to help the Air Force trace the forensics of IED explosions across a small town. MotionDSP received a $2.9 million grant from the Department of Defense’s Rapid Innovation Fund in 2012. The initial contract was the “proving ground” for what Varah’s hopes will become a commercial success.

“You’re going to see more a blur between commercial and military,” he said in an interview this week.

Once a Silicon Valley startup with its sights set on improving the quality of mobile phone videos on YouTube, MotionDSP now counts the military and homeland security services among its top clients. The firm brought its technology to Washington after investment from the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) venture capital organization In-Q-Tel.

As commercial industries from oil and gas companies to Amazon [AMZN] begin experimenting with drones and satellite motion imagery, Varah said he expects private firms to run into the “ultimate big data problem” that the military and law enforcement have experienced with video.

“Putting the drone up in the air is really just the beginning of the story; the story is really in the processing of the data,” he said.

As many as 70 people are required to run a military drone mission, he said, which adds up in personnel costs.

“The initial focus is really to help the human do better,” he said of Ikena, which comes in after-action forensic and real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) versions.

Commercial uses of drones and video satellite have included stores monitoring traffic patterns near their locations, oil and gas firms checking pipelines, environmental organizations counting wildlife and even hedge funds observing the parking lot at Foxcomm to determine when the new iPhone will be released.

MotionDSP is one of several firms interested in the growing video quality enhancement market, but Varah said the company specializes in real-time improvements to unstable aerial video.

“It’s only recently that computers have become powerful enough to do what our software can do,” he said.

The company will officially launch commercial WAMI next week.

MotionDSP’s software offerings can be found on the General Services Administration’s (GSA) price list, ranging from $25,000 to $100,000. In addition to the Air Force, the company’s federal clients include the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the Navy Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), the Army and Special Operations Forces.