Eye In The Sky

Simple wireless camera powered by radiated energy from power lines.

9 Ratings

The Secretary of Defense is making an unannounced visit to troops in the field to boost moral. His motorcade will take him through a city filled with terrorist and insurgents. Dilemma: U.S. security forces need surveillance video of the motorcade route, but installing cameras is expensive, time consuming, and tips our hand that a visiting U.S. VIP is coming. Solution: Vigilant Surveillance System—a way for our forces to get the needed video without giving themselves away or breaking the budget.


Imagine that you are a security officer charged with monitoring a dangerous urban intersection in a theater of operations as part of an overseas conflict. You need to monitor the area from an offsite location but you can't risk the time and exposure to enemy fire that it would take to install a complicated live-feed video system. Your unit has recently been equipped with the Vigilant Sensing System (VSS). You find that it can be quickly and easily installed directly onto any power line without any connections or setup. A few minutes is all it takes, and your intersection is secure.


Security personnel needed a reliable reconnaissance video camera that was easy to install and power. Conventional security cameras require wired power and data feeds that involve splicing electric wires or running conduit to install. The time and effort required for installation draws unwanted attention to the cameras and exposes our forces to hostile surveillance or fire. Existing surveillance cameras require hours of installation and either running dedicated cables for power or frequently replacing batteries. Installation requires service members to put themselves in danger. Lengthy setup and ongoing maintenance also attracts unwanted attention to the newly installed device.


Defense Research Associates, Inc. worked with our AFRL partners and users to understand the security problem our deployed forces face and the utilities and resources often available to our people. Based on our background and knowledge of sensor systems, electronics, and the tools that are available in theater to our deployed forces, we were able to design and develop a sensor platform that can inductively draw its power from the power line, allowing users to monitor an area indefinitely.

"The ability of VSS to use existing infrastructures for power and communications enables it to be fielded quickly with minimum effort to support both military and civilian law enforcement." — David McDaniel


The Vigilant Sensing System is a small, reliable camera/sensor platform that can be installed directly onto overhead power lines in minutes. As electrical current flows through overhead power lines, the lines continuously radiate electromagnetic energy. This “wasted” energy is collected by the VSS system using an unobtrusive inductive collection system which converts the energy into usable DC power to operate the camera and cellular communications modules within the device. Installation does not require cutting the wire. This unlimited “free” power source means that the VSS does not have to rely on an internal battery system or “hardwired” connection to a wall plug or electrical utility. Installation is as easy as clamping the device onto a power line. Energy is immediately collected, and the system begins to operate. The VSS communicates through a cellular link, just like a mobile phone or iPad. Operators can view video from the VSS from an office via a computer or from a smartphone. They can also control camera settings from the comfort of their office.


The VSS provides a valuable surveillance capability to the soldier without having to put them in harm’s way. Multiple VSS units can be installed throughout an urban environment to act as a “force multiplier” in allowing limited personnel the ability to effectively observe large sections of urban environments while remaining within the safe confines of a forward operating base or armored vehicle.

The engineering successes from the development of a power harvesting system for power lines has resulted in the creation of a spinoff company (Grid Sentry) who is applying the technology to commercial markets in support of “Smart Grid” applications. The creation of Grid Sentry has resulted in new job creation within the Dayton area.

The VSS has been a boon to Defense Research Associates. Customers for this system so far have included: The University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI)
, Greene County Ohio Sheriff's Department, 
and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)
. In addition, unites are under evaluation at U.S. Marshall’s Office, Dayton Power & Light (DP&L), Dayton, Ohio, and the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence.

The development of the VSS has had a significant impact in expanding our engineering staff, as well as the staff of the spinoff company Grid Sentry. Job creation is an obvious benefit that can be visualized, but what is not as readily apparent but of great significance is the enrichment in the skill sets of our engineers. Some of these challenges included power harvesting technologies for special operation ground forces and power conversion systems for fielded communications equipment.

Cost Effective Design

The Vigilant Sensing System is also significantly cost-effective. It incorporates off-the-shelf commercial components like Ethernet routers and Network cameras while also capitalizing on existing infrastructures like power lines and cellular networks.

Defense Research Associates, Inc.


Beavercreek, OH

Defense Research Associates, Inc. (DRA) is a veteran-owned small business specializing in developing innovative technologies, in conjunction with Government research laboratories, and transitioning them to support the Warfighter.

David  McDaniel David  McDaniel

David McDaniel

Director of Electrical Engineering

Gary Clayman Gary Clayman

Gary Clayman

Systems Engineer, Software Designer

Korey Coates Korey Coates

Korey Coates

Technical Specialist - Mechanical Designer


Long-Duration, Eye-in-the-Sky Monitoring for Airfield Threat Detection





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