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Low-cost Imager for Heavily Degraded Visual Environments


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Electronics 

OBJECTIVE: Develop a compact, lightweight, low power, and low cost imager, capable of sensing through heavily degraded environments, that will augment long wave infrared (LWIR) imagery. The proposed system is only required to provide a rough outline of targets which, when fused with LWIR imagery, will provide enough context for maneuvering ground vehicles at 16 km/h in heavy dust. 

DESCRIPTION: Degraded Visual Environments represent a significant challenge for the Army. They limit Soldier effectiveness by slowing down ground vehicle movement and increasing the chances for collision and injury. LWIR imagers have been used extensively by the military as they can operate day and night and under some degraded environments (e.g., light dust clouds). However, they show poor performance under heavy dust, fog, or smoke. Other sensing modalities show better penetration, but normally come with some caveats that prevent their practical implementation. Examples of these modalities are automotive radars and millimeter-wave imagers, which are virtually unaffected by airborne obscurants, but their resolution is poor. An enhanced imaging system consisting of a LWIR camera, coupled with a low-resolution imager that possesses better penetration, will provide enough cues to the driver to avoid obstacles and other hazards on the road. The objective is to be able to detect, but not necessarily identify those targets. This effort would develop a proof-of-concept test bed that will demonstrate that a low cost imager is capable of sensing through heavy dust, fog, and smoke. This imager is intended to complement a high-resolution LWIR camera for the detection of common obstacles and targets found while driving ground vehicles. Minimum requirements are the ability to detect an obstacle as small as 56 cm in diameter at a distance of 25 m (50 m objective), refresh rate of 15 Hz (30 Hz objective), horizontal field of view (HFOV) 20° (60° objective) and vertical field of view (VFOV) of at least 6° (15° objective). The range to and the velocity of targets is also desirable. The proposed solution should be scalable, enabling development of either higher or lower resolution imagers based on the concept proposed. Due to the low-cost requirement, preference will be given to designs that include commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components. Passive approaches are preferred, but active methods will also be considered. Previous research suggests that RF and millimeter-wave based solutions are likely candidates, but other methods will be considered. 

PHASE I: Design imager and validate, using analytical models, that system can fulfill the requirements. Build a simple prototype to validate design and assumptions. Provide a cost estimate to prototype designed system. 

PHASE II: Based on the results and analysis of Phase I, build a fully functional testbed that can be mounted on a ground vehicle and tested in a relevant environment. Demonstrate imagery fused with LWIR video and quantify performance. Government will provide test vehicle and LWIR sensor. 

PHASE III: Integrate low-cost imager with LWIR sensor into a single enclosure and achieve a Technology Readiness Level 6 (TRL 6). 


1: T. E. Dillon, C. A. Schuetz, R. D. Martin, D. G. Mackrides, S. Shi, P. Yao, K. Shreve, et al., "Passive, real-time millimeter wave imaging for degraded visual environment mitigation," in Proc. of SPIE 9471, Degraded Visual Environments: Enhanced, Synthetic, and External Vision Solutions, Baltimore, MD, 2015, pp. 947103-947103-9.

2:  C. A. Schuetz, R. D. Martin, C. Harrity, and D. W. Prather, "Progress towards a "FLASH" imaging RADAR using RF photonics," 2016 IEEE Avionics and Vehicle Fiber-Optics and Photonics Conference (AVFOP), 2016, pp. 187-188.

3:  C. A. Martin, J. A. Lovberg, and V. G. Kolinko, "Expanding the spectrum: 20 years of advances in MMW imagery," Proc. of SPIE 10189, Passive and Active Millimeter-Wave Imaging XX, Anaheim, CA, 2017, pp. 1018903-1018903-7.

KEYWORDS: DVE, Degraded Visual Environments, RF, MMW, Millimeter-Wave, Imaging Radar, LWIR, Multi-spectral Imaging, Sensors, Acoustics, Seismic, Non-traditional Sensing Modalities 


Wilson Caba 

(703) 704-2159 

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