In May last year I wrote about some interesting developments in night vision technology. New thin-film organic semiconductors held out the promise of being able to incorporate night vision into something as small and light as a pair of spectacles.
It seems things are moving right along. Wired magazine reports that the US military is actively seeking to incorporate the new technology into other, everyday tools.
The cellphone industry may just want to give a sloppy kiss to the Pentagon’s futurists for this one. A solicitation Darpa sent out yesterday calls for the development of wafer-sized thermal imagery sensors and optics. That’s meant to remedy a "key shortfall" for today’s troops: the lack of mobile, individualized heat vision ... for spotting living forms in low-visibility environments.
One objective is to create a "high throughput thermal camera" mounted on a gunsight or a vehicle dashboard. Another is to put the camera on "a small handheld platform (ex. cellphone)". Break out your phone’s camera and tune it to infrared, and you’ll have an edge up on stealthy terrorists or the neighborhood trick-or-treaters.
Only the goals of the project are more ambitious than what your typical data plan provides. The resolution of the imaging has to ultimately aid in the "identification" of targets. That is, it’s not enough to detect an "upright, stationary adult human being". The sensors should allow users to "determine that personnel target(s) are present and that the target(s) are potentially an immediate threat (i.e., with RPG/Rifle) to the host vehicle/soldier/etc".
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And just in case you thought Darpa hadn’t considered the commercial applications of cellphone thermal imaging: "If successful, the IR [infrared] cellphone camera-like approach will lead to widespread proliferation in military and consumer products", the solicitation reads.
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Everything - the cameras themselves, the optics, the software, manufacturing, everything - has to cost under $500 per unit. If it costs more, the thinking goes, it won’t be practical to issue to troops; for the same reason, the "thermal core" of the camera has to weigh less than 25 grams.
Good luck keeping costs down. Engineers will have three years to develop working, cheap, personal thermal camera prototypes.
There's more at the link.
I really hope they succeed with this project, because I'd love to have access to low-cost, high-resolution night vision equipment for my own use! If DARPA gets this right, we'll all reap the benefits.