Beyond the Pinhole: Darpa's 10-Gram Cameras

SU320US.jpgVideo cameras keep getting smaller and smaller; look at what you can see these days on your cell phone, or on a TV poker show. The military's way-out research arm wants 'em to get even tinier still -- an order of magnitude smaller, at least, than today's cameras.The ultimate goal: a short wave infrared eye that's as heavy as two quarters -- about 10 grams -- and able to pick out child-sized targets from 100 meters away. Mounted on helmets or on itty-bitty drones, these minuscule cameras could give U.S. forces a "night time dominance" for a "new generation," Darpa believes.But "getting down to that size [won't] just [take] aggressive engineering," says Dr. Terry Boult, who heads the Vision and Security Technology Lab of University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. "It will probably take a radically new approach."There are a few cameras today which meet Darpa's aggressive size and weight specifications, Boult notes. But with today's lenses, they can't peer very far out into the distance. At 100 meters, Boult says, "you might see a semi but not a person."By the end of phase II of the program, Darpa not only wants an ultra-small camera out of its "Micro-Sensors for Imaging" effort. The agency wants an entire featherweight imaging system -- including batteries, a goggle-mounted 1280 x 1024 display, and all the signal processing doodads -- in a 350-gram package.Good luck, cameramen.

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