Infrared sensor designers eye multispectral imaging, miniaturization, and improved image resolution

By John Keller

Designers of infrared sensors for aerospace and defense applications are concentrating their research efforts on blending IR sensors with electro-optical sensors for multispectral sensing and imaging, improving the resolution of IR sensors to match those of visible-light sensors, blending IR sensors with laser range finders, and shrinking the size of IR sensor packages for unmanned vehicles and other miniature applications.

"It boils down to multispectral imaging," says Dave Strong, vice president of marketing at the FLIR Systems Government Systems Division in Wilsonville, Ore. IR sensor designers are trying to blend the most useful aspects of shortwave infrared (SWIR), midwave infrared (MWIR), and longwave infrared (LWIR) to improve surveillance, reconnaissance, and detection capability.

The idea is to take advantage of the strengths of different IR sensors, Strong says. SWIR sensors, for example, can detect dirt that has been recently turned over, can differentiate between natural foliage and camouflage, can see through glass windows, and has sufficient resolution and detail to recognize human faces.

MWIR and LWIR sensors, meanwhile, can see in total darkness, while SWIR sensors cannot. "If you have these technologies at your fingertips, you can do multispectral imaging," Strong says. "When you compare SWIR to the MWIR and LWIR bandwidth, you can highlight things that weren't apparent before."

Using data-fusion software algorithms to blend outputs from different IR sensors "is a multiplier in capability, and is bigger than the sum of its parts," explains John Antoniades, director of the ISR Exploitation Technologies Group at the BAE Systems Technology Solutions business unit in Columbia, Md.

Antoniades heads up a team that has developed the Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Imaging System (ARGUS-IS), which will provide the persistent-surveillance payload for the A160T Hummingbird unmanned helicopter.

Although the ARGUS-IS system is a visible-light sensor system, designers and potential military users are figuring out how to blend the ARGUS-IS sensor data with outputs from infrared sensors, such as the future Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Infrared (ARGUS-IR) system for 24-hour persistent surveillance capability.

The ARGUS-IS, ARGUS-IR, and A160T unmanned aerial vehicle programs are under supervision of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va.

"A lot of work will have to go into the IR focal planes, which lag in the number of pixels they have, compared to the daytime electro-optical sensors," Antoniades says. The pixels in today's IR focal plane array sensors are also much larger than the electro-optical sensors. There is really a lot of infrared research going into shrinking the pixel size, and putting more pixels on the sensors, to fill the gap between the IR and EO sensors."

In other IR sensor trends, developers are looking into blending IR sensors and laser target designators in very small packages "to make every sensor a shooter," Strong says. Following similar trends, developers are also trying to shrink the sizes of IR sensors to fit them on small unmanned vehicles.

Finally, IR sensor designers are looking to improve the resolution of detectors to follow trends in high-definition imaging to improve quality and enable IR images to be shown on a growing number of displays.

More Military & Aerospace Electronics Current Issue Articles
More Military & Aerospace Electronics Archives Issue Articles

Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account.

The Innovation That Matters™ Quiz

Innovation is one of the key drivers in the Defense industry. View this short video of Leon Woo, VP of Engineering at Mercury Systems, on the role of innovation. Then, answer 3 simple questions correctly to be entered into a drawing to win an Eddie Bauer fleece jacket!


Military & Aerospace Photos

Related Products

RR2P Removable Canister RAID System

Transportable data storage for mobile field use aboard planes, ships and ground transport. 2U, du...

Sensors Unlimited GA1280JSX High Resolution, Mil-Rugged, Extended High Sensitivity InGaAs SWIR Camera

Manufactures a high resolution, mil-rugged, extended high-sensitivity 0.9 Mpixel InGaAs SWIR came...

M1U20xx 1U Military-Grade Computer System

The M1U20xx Military-Grade Rack Mount System is a reliable high-performance mil-spec 1U solution ...

Related Companies

Winchester Systems Inc

At its founding in 1981, Winchester Systems introduced its first 5 MB disk system for Intel development system users....

Extreme Engineering Solutions Inc (X-ES)

 Extreme Engineering Solutions, Inc. (X-ES) is a leader in the design, manufacture, and support of standard and ...

American Infrared Solutions (AIRS)

Wire News provided by   

Most Popular Articles


Meeting the Gen3 backplane challenge with OpenVPX and COTS

Tight Pentagon budgets mean military systems must stay in the field for longer than ever before. This doesn't mean obsolete technology, however. Today's military electronics are being upgraded constantly, an...
Sponsored by:

Digital signal processing for signals intelligence and electronic warfare

Military & Aerospace Electronics presents an expert Webcast on the design considerations for blending general-purposes processors (GPUs), general-purpose graphics processors (GPGPUs), field-programmable ...
Sponsored by:

Advantages of Intel Architecture Products and Wind River Solutions in Military & Aerospace Applications

This webinar explains the individual advantages of the Intel Architecture hardware, available for long-life supply, and the WRS software portfolio.  There are extraordinary advantages of combining such ...
Sponsored by:

social activity

All Access Sponsors

Mil & Aero Magazine

February 2014
Volume 25, Issue 2

Download Our Apps




Follow Us On...


Military & Aerospace Electronics

Weekly newsletter covering technical content, breaking news and product information

Defense Executive

Monthly newsletter covering business news and strategic insights for executive managers

Embedded Computing Report

Monthly newsletter covering news on embedded computing in aerospace, defense and industrial-rugged applications

Unmanned Vehicles

Monthly newsletter covering news updates for designers of unmanned vehicles