SWIR, infrared HD, and low-light images of France from 17,000 feet

Click to EnlargePosted by John McHale
PARIS AIR SHOW BLOG, 24 June 2011. Officials at FLIR Systems gave a press demonstration of their Star SAFIRE 380-high-definition (HD) electro-optical/infrared sensor at 17,000 feet above the French countryside in a Pilatus PC12 turbo prop aircraft during this week's Paris Air Show. The system toggled quickly between short-wave infrared (SWIR), infrared HD, and low-level light, fields of view during the demonstration.
David Strong, vice president of marketing at FLIR, operated the system via a dual-hand held controller (pictured below). To go change field of view, he just simply flipped a switch on the controller. The dual hand controller is the most common, like a game controller, but it can come in a single hand unit as well, Strong said.
While infrared is a truly thermal sensor, SWIR is near infrared it is reflective, Strong said. "The SWIR camera is brand new technology and enables you to see things you can't see in other sensor wavelengths." 
Moisture content also reflects differently in SWIR images and the technology can also supposedly see disturbed earth as well, Strong continued. "We are still discovering just what SWIR can do," he added.
The Star SAFIRE sensor uses gyros to keep the gimbal stabilized, Strong said. It also uses an inertial measurement unit to help keep its position relative to the aircraft and fly in line of sight, he added.
The geo rate aid -- a geotracking feature -- and the system's autotrack technology can also track targets even if the image is temporarily blocked due to cloud interference it can "predict where it’s going to be and keep following it," Strong said. This is a very popular feature with law enforcement, he added.
The name SAFIRE originates with FLIR's first launch of the technology back in the 1990s when the Danish air force and navy wanted a system to go on helicopters and several ship classes and they chose the name shipborne airborne forward looking infrared equipment or SAFIRE, Strong said. The name worked and "we stuck with it," he added.
Business for electro-optic surveillance equipment such as the Star SAFIRE is quite good in the U.S. and internationally, Strong said. Even countries struggling with fiscal issues still have priorities when it comes to controlling immigration flow and fighting crime -- "things that don't go away," he continued.
The need is still there and these technologies have reached maturity where as 15 or 20 years ago it was rare for a search and rescue (SAR) helicopter to have an infrared sensor system, whereas today "they won't put [SAR] helo in the air without one," Strong said.
Down the road infrared sensor systems will have laser designators on them, Strong said. Another future trend will be toward hyperspectral imaging -- in other words divide infrared into different color bands much like the eye sees on television, he explained. It is analogous to seeing things in color, and should provide more information, Strong added.


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