January 15, 2010
SMU research into smart, ultra slim camera technology has won another $2 million in Department of Defense funding for 2010, which will allow electrical engineering professor Marc Christensen to explore emerging applications for his “high tech eyes” for both homeland security and battlefield use.
The Department of Defense has previously funded SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering for development, field-testing and technology transfer for a high performance small camera system with military applications for small aerial drones and helmet cameras. The new allocation will bring DOD spending on the project to more than $5.5 million.
“This new money will allow us to explore its use for non-cooperative iris recognition systems for homeland security and other defense applications,” Christensen said. “And it will allow us to enhance the camera system to make it capable of active illumination so it can travel into dark places – like caves and urban areas.”
Christensen and his team of graduate and undergraduate students are developing a new generation of camera systems that produce sharp, clear images without the size and weight of a traditional camera system. The technology uses computers to link a series of small, overlapping images produced by dozens of tiny, mirrored lenses to achieve the kind of resolution previously restricted to cameras with large, heavy lenses. The system is called PANOPTES (Processing Arrays of Nyquist-limited Observations to Produce a Thin Electro-optic Sensor) after Greek mythological character Argus Panoptes – a giant sentry with a hundred eyes.
Because the system does not rely on a large lens, it can be manufactured as flat and as thin as a stack of two credit cards – which means it can be mounted almost anywhere.
SMU was able to negotiate the additional funding, which President Obama recently approved as part of the Defense Appropriation Bill, with the help of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Christensen will work with Dr. Delores Etter, a former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense who directs the Lyle School’s Caruth Institute for Engineering Education, to apply the technology to iris recognition systems used for identification purposes. Christensen and Etter will work to adapt the PANOPTES system of overlapping images controlled by a computer to cut through the distortion and blurring that occur in low light iris scanning, or when non-cooperative subjects move as their eyes are being scanned – applications that would be of value in airport security systems, for example.
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