Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thermal imaging camera for soldier's smartphones


Smartphones are already all-purpose, do-everything tools for civilians. Could they soon fulfil the same role for soliders? DARPA wants to take a step in that direction by shrinking thermal imaging cameras to fit into soldiers' phones.
Thermal imaging shows how the world looks at infrared wavelengths of 8 to 12 micrometres. At those wavelengths, people, warm-blooded animals, and operating engines glow brightly against the cooler background of plants and soil. Firefighters use thermal imaging cameras to identify dangerous hot spots. Soldiers use them to check what might be lurking in the brush, especially in dim light.
But today's thermal imaging cameras are big and expensive: standard military versions resemble binoculars and cost thousands of dollars. Civilian models used by firefighters and contractors cost $1000 or more and may weigh a few kilograms. Key problems are the high cost, large size, and power requirements of the infrared-sensitive sensors needed to record images at wavelengths about 20 times longer than visible light.
To overcome those problems, DARPA is paying Raytheon Vision Systems $13.4 million over three years to develop ways to make the sensors small and cheap enough to be integrated into phones. Soon every US soldier could have a thermal imaging camera in their back pocket.

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