DARPA seeks smart camera that would blend visible, infrared images into a single shot

DARPA wants super-smart clip-on or helmet mounted camera

DARPA
Researchers with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency want to build a clip-on or helmet mounted smart camera system that can meld visible, near infrared, and infrared images into a single shot under all weather and visibility conditions.  

The agency announced the Pixel Network for Dynamic Visualization program which has as its main goal to combine photographic sensor output into one system that can aggregate those images to a single system. PIXNET technology would ingest the most useful data points from each sensor and fuse them into a common, information-rich image that can be viewed on the a heads-up display, and potentially be shared across military units. 

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"The base technologies DARPA proposes to use already exist and are currently used by [the military]. However, these devices typically have dedicated functionality, operate independently of one another and provide value only to the immediate operator. Through the PIXNET program, DARPA seeks to fuse the capabilities of these devices into a single multi-band system, thus alleviating physical overburdening of warfighters, and develop a tool that is network-ready, capable of sharing imagery with other warfighters," DARPA stated. 

The program will also focus on a low-cost approach to reducing the size, weight, power, and cost of helmet-mounted and clip-on camera configurations. Further, the program will also focus on camera features leading to color fusion and rendition of images to user, thus enhancing detection, recognition and identification tasks and ease of use, DARPA said.

"Existing sensor technologies are a good jumping-off point, but PIXNET will require innovations to combine reflective and thermal bands for maximum visibility during the day or night, and then package this technology for maximum portability. What we really need are breakthroughs in aperture design, focal plane arrays, electronics, packaging and materials science," said Nibir Dhar, DARPA program manager for PIXNET.

To help boost processing power while minimizing size and energy use, PIXNET sensors will interface wirelessly with an Android-based smart phone for fusing images and for networking among units. Although the primary focus of PIXNET is on sensor development, proposers are instructed to develop whatever apps are necessary to achieve the desired functionality for phone and camera.   

DARPA also noted that network-ready in this project means the ability to network the PIXNET camera within the user's space - what the agency calls "intra," in order to provide imagery to the user at the eye level. This intra network includes a smart phone, weapon sights and the camera. Additionally, network-ready also refers to the ability to network within a squad with modifications in the future though that is not an initial requirement, DARPA said.

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