Monday, March 31, 2008

Wide-angle camera improves security surveillance

Researchers at the University of Alabama (UAH) have developed a wide-angle camera that will assist security forces by enabling them to monitor large areas through high-resolution images taken from a satellite or an airborne craft. The proposed one giga-pixel camera was created after UAH researcher, David Pollock, discovered that if you point a large number of lenses toward a common point, and then make a small correction on each of the lenses, you have a camera with capabilities that far surpass existing technologies.

Current technologies used to capture high resolution images taken from satellites or aircraft suffer from a very small field-of-view. The new camera designed by Pollock and his team, allows the user to view the entire scene and to also zoom in closely on a certain area with very high resolution at real time. Flying at an altitude of 15,000 feet, a developmental version of the camera can see a 21-kilometer diameter area with a resolution of 0.3 meters. As a comparison, most Google Earth imagery is 1 meter.
The ability to view sections of the scene in high resolution has advantages for security forces. Images from existing cameras have to be tiled like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle before a full picture can be seen, a serious disadvantage for defense surveillance as vehicles can end up appearing more than once if they move from one image to the next between exposures. These types of errors frequently exist in online mapping tools, such as Google Earth or Microsoft’s Virtual Earth, according to Pollock. To rectify this problem, the new camera has an array of light sensitive chips - each one recording small parts of a larger image - at the focal plane of a large multiple-lens system. The system has the structure of a common kitchen utensil, a colander. The camera would have one giga-pixel resolution, and be able to record images at five frames per second. Ultimately the camera can cover nearly a hemispherical field-of-view with uniform image quality and sensitivity.

Pollock says the camera could have far-reaching implications for the military, crime prevention and enforcement as well as traffic analysis and emergency response support. The giga-pixel camera will fit in a one-meter cube, could be flown on any type of vehicle – airplanes, helicopters, blimps or unmanned aerial vehicles.

UAH has filed the patent for the large-format giga-pixel camera (which it shares on a 50-50 basis with Sony Corp).

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