Improvements in optics, platforms and software make sensors more valuable than ever for military and intelligence users.
By Peter Buxbaum GIF Correspondent
“The technological building blocks of these With clarity that would do credit to your highinnovations include higher-quality optics, more definition flat screen TV at home, electro-optical stable structures and the imaging device itself,” (EO) sensors are more than ever providing military said Chip Barnes, chief engineer for civil space and intelligence users with crisp, clear images transand technologies and operational space at Ball mitted from airborne and space platforms. Aerospace. Innovations in the sensors themselves, includBarnes pointed in particular to complemening the optics and focal plane arrays, the structures tary metal-oxide semiconductors (CMOS). “CMOS which attach the camera to a platform, and the softtechnology is the device that turns photons into ware and systems that process the output of the camelectrons, and the electronics behind CMOS turn eras, have contributed to the advancement of the end images into the kind of data that can get into an product. Steven Wein exploitation system,” he said. As the UAVs and other platforms used to these CMOS has driven a phenomenon in which the EO sensors get smaller, along with their payloads, so pixel pitches—the distances between groups of have the sensors themselves shrunk to accommodots in a digital image generated by EO sensors— date military requirements, without loss of quality. have decreased from seven microns to two microns These improvements are helping analysts and warfor less over the past decade. ighters with everything from scouting out landing “CMOS is allowing both smaller pixel pitches zones to developing clearer situational awareness and and increased functionality,” said Wein. “As the enabling persistent surveillance systems. pixel sizes shrink, the optics need to become much The military relies heavily on infrared (IR) sensor faster to maintain both high resolution and sensitechnology because of its day/night and all-weather tivity. Advances in the state of the art in fast, comcapabilities. But EO sensors and their associated sysChip Barnes pact, wide-field optics have been occurring to keep tems are playing an increasingly important role. up with these reduced pixel sizes.” “It is human nature to want to be able to truly see “On the tactical side, we see a trend toward higher definition the object of interest with sharp clarity,” said Steven Wein, Ph.D., and larger formats,” said Lon Celmer, manager of tactical soludirector of ISR strategic development at BAE Systems. “EO can tions business development at Ball Aerospace. “CMOS is enabling always provide higher resolution than IR in the same size package different types of missions such as full motion video. The matudue to wavelength considerations, and only EO can provide true rity and innovation in detectors enable higher performance with color, which is something from which the human brain derives a lower noise.” large amount of information.”
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