DARPA Unveils Gigapixel Camera

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency works on camera with ultra high resolution that will help soldiers and unmanned aerial vehicles see better through dark, fog, smoke.

Patience Wait, Contributor

July 6, 2012

3 Min Read

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The Department of Defense's innovation arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is working to develop a gigapixel camera capable of much higher resolution than the human eye can see. The agency has successfully tested cameras with 1.4 and 0.96 gigapixel resolutions at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C., and hopes to reach resolutions of up to 10 to 50 gigapixels.

A gigapixel is 1,000 megapixels, or 1 billion pixels.

The gigapixel camera, in a manner similar to a parallel-processor supercomputer, uses between 100 and 150 micro cameras to build a wide-field panoramic image. These small cameras' local aberration and focus provide extremely high resolutions, combined with smaller system volume and less distortion than traditional wide-field lens systems.

The camera project is part of DARPA's Advanced Wide Field-of-Vision Architectures for Image Reconstruction and Exploitation (AWARE) program to improve military personnel's ability to see farther, through darkness, through obscurants such as fog or smoke, with higher clarity. These ultra-high-resolution cameras can be of use not just to ground troops, but for unmanned aerial vehicles. Currently, the gigapixel camera is two-and-half feet square and 20 inches deep, not yet of a size to be considered for production, but a major step forward in resolution.

[ Read DARPA Works On Virtual Reality Contact Lenses. ]

Earlier this year, AWARE unveiled its advances in hand-held thermal imagers and long-range thermal sights. The High Operating Temperature Mid-Wave Infrared (HOT MWIR) system owes its reduced size to a focal plane array operating at a higher temperature, using micro-miniature mercury-cadmium-telluride detector pixels, with a small, battery-powered cooler. These provide a large format sensor in a small, low-power package. The detector pixels' sensitivity across the light spectrum makes use of new optics that combine mid-wave and short-wave infrared capabilities in a single platform.

Improving the range and sharpness of thermal images while reducing the size of the device means that soldiers can use rifle scopes that give them a better view of their targets from longer distances, reducing their exposure to opponents.

"Never before has a MCT [mercury-cadmium-telluride] MWIR with 'see spot' capability been developed into such small handheld sights and potentially unequalled performance in future sniper scopes," Nibir Dhar, program manager of AWARE, said on the program's website. "The HOT-MWIR scope's range is significantly farther than the current thermal weapon sights. Such a capability should lead to increased standoff distance for snipers and provide a significant advantage over adversaries."

U.S. Special Forces Command has moved the HOT MWIR scope technology into program development to take it from prototype to field use. DRS Technologies has received a $40 million contract to produce the long-range thermal sights, which will weigh less than two pounds.

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Patience Wait


Washington-based Patience Wait contributes articles about government IT to InformationWeek.

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