JULY 2, 2009--Researchers are combining overlapping images of dozens of small lenses to produce a clear image without the size and weight of a large lens. The Panoptes camera, with funding from DARPA, may be used in surveillance by small aircraft at low altitudes or helmet-mounted surveillance equipment for soldiers on the ground.
Panoptes is being developed in the lab of Marc Christensen, a professor at Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX, USA; www.smu.edu). The camera consists of many small imagers, each directed independently by a MEMS-controlled micromirror. A CPU combines the images into a single picture, producing a higher resolution than the individual imagers. The intelligence is in the way that the system identifies areas of interest and concentrates the subimagers on the relevant part of the scene.
The current goal of Panoptes--or Processing Arrays of Nyquist-limited Observations to Produce a Thin Electro-optic Sensor--is to demonstrate an imager 5 mm thick, weighing tens of grams. But the first customer for Panoptes may be a robotic plane. The current stage of the program is due to be completed next year when the system will be passed to a defence company for integration with an unmanned aerial vehicle.