Three years ago, Indigo Systems launched its Omega camera line, which to this day remains one of the world's smallest, lightest, lowest powered infrared cameras. The concept of a miniature thermal imager has proven very successful, and thousands of cores have been employed in a number of portable applications, including firefighting, unmanned vehicles, and handheld imagers. A common thread to these high-volume markets is their elasticity-lowering cost substantially enhances demand. Hence the motivation behind Indigo’s newest miniature camera, Photon. Photon is a product family of small and mid-format sensor engines (160x128, 320x128, 320x256) specifically optimized for low cost and high volume. While it shares many of Omega's positive benefits, including remarkably small size, weight, and power, several aspects of the design contribute to it being more affordable than its fore-runner even with four times as many pixels. This paper compares the Photon design to the Omega with particular focus on those aspects affecting manufacturability and cost.
Thermal weapon sights have been used by the U.S. military for decades. More recently, there has been a growing interest in infrared imagers for paramilitary and civilian applications such as law-enforcement and homeland defense. However, traditional weapon sights are not always ideal products for these applications because they do not typically have form-factor or features allowing them to be readily employed as general-purpose imagers off the weapon. Simply stated, most law-enforcement agencies cannot afford a dedicated sniper scope. Instead, this market demands a thermal imager that can be employed in a variety of situations, both weapon-mounted and handheld. Described herein is a new infrared sight that provides this multi-use capability. Based around the Omega imaging core developed by Indigo Systems, this lightweight system employs a unique housing design that mounts to a weapon rail or tripod or is held comfortably in one hand for use as a short-range “pocket scope”. Key aspects of the design are discussed, with particular focus on ergonomics, human factors, and advanced features that enhance its utility in a multi-use role.
By providing visibility through smoke and absolute darkness, thermal imaging has the potential to radically improve the effectiveness and safety of the modern firefighter. Some of the roles of thermal imaging are assisting in detection of victims; navigating through dark, smoke-filled structures; detecting indications of imminent flash-over/roll-over; identifying and attacking the seat and extension of a fire; and surveying for lingering hot spots after a fire is nearly extinguished. In many respects, thermal imaging is ideally suited for these functions. However, firefighting applications present the infrared community some unique and challenging design constraints, not the least of which is an operating environment that is in some ways more harsh than most aerospace applications. While many previous papers have described the benefits of thermal imaging for firefighters, this paper describes several specific engineering challenges of this application. These include large ambient temperature range, rapidly changing scene dynamics, extreme demands on AGC, and large dynamic range requirements. This paper describes these and other challenges in detail and explains how they were addressed and overcome in the design of Evolution 5000, a state-of-the-art thermal imager designed and manufactured by Mine Safety Appliances (MSA) using Indigo System’s Omega miniature uncooled camera core.
Miniature unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are a category of aircraft small enough to be transported, launched, operated, and retrieved by a crew of one or two. The concept is not new, having been in limited use by the U.S. military over the past fifteen years, but interest in potential applications is growing as size and cost of the vehicles come down. An application that is particularly significant to the military and law-enforcement agencies is remote reconnaissance, with one or more onboard sensors transmitting data back to the operator(s) in real time. Typically, a miniature UAV is capable of flying a pre-programmed route autonomously, with manual override as an option. At the conclusion of the mission, the vehicle returns for landing, after which it can be quickly disassembled and stowed until its next use. Thermal imaging extends the utility of miniature UAVs to operations in complete darkness and limited visibility, but historically thermal imagers have been too large and heavy for this application. That changed in 1999 with the introduction of Indigo System's AlphaTM camera, which established a new class of thermal imaging product termed the infrared "microsensor". Substantially smaller and lighter than any other infrared imaging product available at the time, AlphaTMwas the first camera that could be readily packaged into the nose of a miniature UAV. Its low power consumption was also a key enabling feature. Building upon the success of AlphaTM, Indigo then took the microsensor class a step further with its OmegaTM camera, which broke all the records established by AlphaTM for small size, weight, and power. OmegaTM has been successfully integrated into several miniature UAVs, including AeroVironment's Pointer and Raven, as well as the Snake Eye UAV manufactured by BAI Aerosystems. Aspects of the OmegaTM design that have led to its utility on these and other platforms are described, and future prospects for even smaller microsensors are discussed.
While it is universally recognized that image quality of a thermal sensor is a strong function of spatial uniformity, the metrics commonly used to assess performance do not adequately measure the effectiveness of non-uniformity correction (NUC). Image uniformity is generally not static, particularly if correction terms are updated intermittently (with periodic shuttering) or gradually (with scene-based NUC). Minimum Resolvable Temperature (MRT), the most prevalent test for characterizing overall imaging performance, is poorly suited for characterizing dynamic performance. The Triangle Orientation Discrimination (TOD) metric proposed by Bijl and Valeton, because of its short observation window, provides better capability for evaluating sensors that exhibit non-negligible uniformity drift. This paper compares the effectiveness of MRT and TOD for measuring dynamic performance. TOD measurements of a shutter-based thermal imager are provided immediately after shutter correction and 3 minutes later. The drift in TOD performance shows excellent correlation to drift in system noise.
The proliferation of small infrared cameras in high-volume commercial applications (e.g. firefighting, law-enforcement, and automotive) presents a tremendous opportunity for truly low-cost military micro-sensors. Indigo Systems Corporation's UL3 OmegaTM camera is a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) thermal imager that offers ultra-small size, light weight, and low power. It employs a 164×120 microbolometer focal plane array (FPA) and is currently entering full-scale production. Furthermore, a 324×240 upgrade is in development. While aimed primarily at the commercial market, small size and low-power consumption make UL3 well-suited for other applications, including miniature unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) weapon-sights, and unattended ground sensors (UGS). This paper focuses on the key features of the UL3 family of miniature IR cameras and their utility in soldier systems.
When it was first introduced two years ago, Indigo Systems Corporation's UL3 Alpha, a miniature uncooled infrared camera, set new standards for ultra-low size, weight and power within the thermal imaging industry. Now Omega, the next generation in Indigo's UL3 product line, takes advantage of novel algorithms and packaging concepts to further reduce size, weight, and power while still improving performance. These qualities make Omega an ideal candidate for many commercial and military applications, including fire-fighting, law enforcement, industrial inspection, remote surveillance, miniature unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned ground vehicles (UGV), and numerous other possibilities. This paper describes the design, performance and salient features of the Omega camera. Current and future applications of the UL3 product line are also discussed.
Portable thermal imagers are being utilized with great success in many new and emerging applications, and the law enforcement field in particular is benefiting from thermal imagery. It is quickly becoming common practice for enforcement agencies to apply night-vision technology in such activities as search and rescue, surveillance and stakeout, and suspect pursuit. Thermal cameras, however, do not typically provide an intrinsic means for video recording or for visible imaging. Such capabilities could significantly expand and improve the uses of thermal imaging by law enforcement personnel. For example, surveying the scene of a crime or traffic accident with a thermal sensor offers potential for revealing and documenting clues that otherwise go unnoticed. This paper presents a system that integrates an IR micro-camera with a visible camcorder. The system can display and record live visible and thermal imagery and also capture single-frame snapshots on removable media. This paper also explores the utility of such an integrated camera in various law enforcement scenarios.
Raytheon Electronics Systems, under contract from the DARPA Advanced Technology Office, has designed, fabricated and delivered the Modular Miniature Integrated Sight (M2IS). M2IS is a rifle-mounted system that integrates a high- performance multispectral sensor with an eyesafe laser rangefinder and a digital compass. A cooled 480 X 640 InSb focal plane array and multi-FOV reflective optics provide capability to acquire and identify targets at ranges of several kilometers. The LRF and compass facilitate hand- off to remote fire power. M2IS provides the soldier an integrated surveillance, targeting, and fire control system that consumes less than 6.5 W and weighs less than 7.5 lbs. This paper describes measured performance and capabilities of the system.