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1/26/2011
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DARPA Eyes Thermal Sensors For Cell Phones

The military research agency is soliciting bids to develop small, high-performance infrared cameras for personal handheld devices every soldier can use.




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The technology research arm of the Department of Defense (DoD) is eyeing the development of high-performance thermal-sensing imaging technology that can be used on devices as small as cell phones and PDAs.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking proposals for its Low Cost Thermal Imager Manufacturing (LCTI-M) program, which aims to develop inexpensive thermal cameras soldiers can use in the field to increase their visibility within short distances in all weather conditions, according to a request for proposals the agency posted on FedBizOpps.gov.

This type of technology will address a "key shortfall" in current intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems the DoD has: "the lack of a thermal imaging capability available for each warfighter and adequate [infrared] camera form-factors suitable for using with network-enabled small sensor platforms," according to the RFP.

DARPA has very specific size, feature, and cost requests for the technology it plans to develop, according to the RFP. It wants to create wafer-scale optics that can be mass produced to keep the cost down and allow for the use of the sensors in small form factors.

At the same time, the quality of the images the sensors produce must be high. The cameras must not only be able to detect an "upright, stationary adult human being" at close range, but also whether that person poses a threat to the soldier with a weapon, according to the RFP.

With these features, the cost for the cameras should still be less than $500, a figure that includes recurring and non-recurring costs related to camera production, according to the RFP.

Firms have until March 9 to respond to DARPA's RFP for the LCTI-M program. To be considered for the work, they will have to produce prototypes of the cameras and their core technology, according to the RFP.

The military has expressed keen interest lately in creating more personalized technology for soldiers, particularly through the use of handheld devices they keep with them during combat. For example, the Army is deploying smartphones to soldiers loaded with applications that will help them perform better in both the classroom and the field through a program called Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications.

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