SBIR Phase I: Computational Low-cost Arrayed Infrared (CLAIR) Cameras
National Science Foundation
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Small Business Information
1600 Range Street Suite 202, Boulder, CO, 80301-2723
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged:
AbstractThis Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project will research a revolutionary approach to the lens and opto-mechanical design, fabrication process, and image signal processing of infrared (IR) imagers with the goal of reducing cost, size, and weight. To date, the high cost of sensors has made IR imagers accessible only in markets where performance -not cost - is the driving factor, allowing expensive and bulky optics to reign. New process improvements are significantly reducing the size and cost of long wave infrared (LWIR) microbolometer sensors, making optics the limiting factor for weight, size, and cost reduction. The research objectives are to investigate computational imaging, integrated athermalization, focus-free assembly, and arrayed lens fabrication for IR imaging; demonstrate feasibility of lens array construction; and test prototype performance and effectiveness of adaptive computational imaging in adverse conditions. The research will be conducted through the cost-model driven design of the complete opto-mechanical LWIR imager, signal processing, and fabrication process. The design will be implemented and tested through arrangements with industry partners. The anticipated result is demonstration of LWIR imaging with 2X reduction in volume, 5X reduction in weight, and a fabrication, assembly, and test model demonstrating a 3X reduction in cost. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is to extend the sale of IR imagers into cost-sensitive commercial applications. Currently, IR imagers are targeted for expensive military applications, but there is a large need for reduced cost systems in safety, security, and industrial markets where thermal imaging offers enhanced viewing over the visible spectrum. Thermal imagers provide visibility in fog, smoke, and poor lighting, which enables imaging in adverse conditions needed by automotive collision detection and Homeland Security rescue and response. Security applications require identification of humans in conditions of no light, where thermal imagers alone are able to meet the demand. In industrial use, LWIR thermography can improve energy efficiency by identifying thermal leaks and can predict imminent process faults. The impact to society is as ubiquitous as the commercial opportunities and constitutes an increase in emergency search effectiveness, city street safety, and energy conservation. Labor costs are already driving current labor-intensive IR lens fabrication overseas at the detriment to US scientific innovation. The proposed innovations remove the labor-intensive component, establishing the US as the dominate manufacturer in this emerging market while enhancing science in parallel process development, computational imaging, material property innovation, and IR sensor performance.
* information listed above is at the time of submission.