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Autonomous Missile Detection using Bio-Inspired Sensors


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Electronics, Ground Sea, Sensors


Develop innovative designs for a bio-inspired sensor that is optimized for autonomously detecting, identifying, tracking, and reporting dim missile threats in cluttered and noisy scenes.


This topic seeks innovative solutions for autonomously (i.e. without a cue from another sensor) detecting dim missile threats in cluttered and noisy scenes using passive sensors. An example application could be detection of a distant (e.g. 100 kilometers away) re-entering missile using a ground-based infrared search and track sensor. In addition to the background and sensor noise, the scene might be cluttered by moving sources to include (but not limited to) clouds, dust, precipitation, weapon effects, the sun, the moon, stars, meteors, satellite flares, auroras, birds, insects, and aircraft. Such a scene could be challenging for conventional detection approaches, and would require increased size, weight, and power (SWaP) in order to reject noise and clutter while increasing target sensitivity.

Biological vision systems are SWaP-efficient and well adapted for ignoring clutter and noise, detecting motion, and compressing visual information. A sensor that artificially emulates all or part of a biological vision system might outperform conventional sensors for detecting, identifying, tracking, and reporting dim missile threats in cluttered and noisy scenes.

This topic seeks innovative sensor designs that artificially mimic biological vision systems wherever feasible and are capable of overcoming the challenges described above. Offerors should propose complete designs, to include everything from the optics taking in the scene to the final processor outputting target reports. These designs should incorporate technologies that are projected to mature (preferably driven by commercial investments) within the next 10 years, and that would be available (as early prototypes) for experiments during Phase II.

The focus of this topic is not on the development of any one particular technology but rather the integration of multiple emerging technologies into a novel solution. The Research Institute partner should be a key member of the design team and a source of many of the innovative ideas, rather than supplying one or two services or subcomponents. Offerors may use the example application described above or propose their own notional application and corresponding sensor configuration (e.g. waveband, field-of-view, etc.) as long as its feasibility and suitability for missile defense applications can be established.

In addition to performance, there are other considerations that determine the acceptability of a sensor concept for deployment. These considerations include manufacturability, ease-of-calibration, ability to handle multiple simultaneous targets, minimization of (or compensation for) non-linearities and non-uniformities, insensitivity to (or compensation for) vibration and temperature changes, hardening against radiation and EMP, ability to be programmed and trained, and system support requirements (e.g. cooling, data-link, and off-board processing requirements). The bio-inspired sensor design should address these considerations.


Develop an initial design for a bio-inspired sensor. Study the scientific and technical feasibility of the proposed approach. Estimate its performance using low-fidelity calculations, models, and simulations. Develop an initial plan for fabricating a prototype in Phase III. Assess the availability and maturity of enabling technologies and subcomponents within the next 5-10 years based on market projections. Identify risk areas and mitigation plans that would be implemented in Phase II. Complete a plan for Phase II and contact suppliers to verify the plan is executable.


Conduct integration, risk-reduction, and proof-of-concept experiments using early prototype subcomponents and subassemblies in order to inform models and increase confidence in the feasibility and benefit of the proposed design. Improve the design based on these experimental results. Conduct medium-fidelity calculations, models, and simulations to estimate sensor performance, behavior, and support requirements. Complete a detailed plan for fabricating a prototype in Phase III.


Fabricate and test a complete bench-top prototype of the bio-inspired sensor. Identify design modifications that could be made to serve other customers and applications. Complete plans for a transportable, ruggedized, and miniaturized prototype that could be field-tested.

KEYWORDS: Bio-inspired, Missile Defense, Sensor


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