Southern Methodist University researchers are taking a different approach to producing photo and video images for military surveillance cameras outfitted on unmanned aerial vehicles and helmets. David Hambling of Wired magazine reported July 1 on research in the lab of Electrical Engineering Associate Professor Marc Christensen.

Christensen, chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering in SMU’s Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering, has built a nationally recognized research group in photonics and computational imaging. His work with imaging sensors and micro-mirror arrays has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, among others. In 2007 he received the DARPA Young Faculty Award.


By David Hambling
Troops and unmanned aircraft could be the first to benefit from a new smart, ultra-slim camera technology which combines the images from many low-resolution sensors to create a high-resolution picture. Known as Panoptes, it promises lightweight, flat cameras with the power of a big lens in a device just five millimeters thick. It’s being developed by Professor Marc Christensen at Southern Methodist University, with funding from Darpa. Planned applications include sensors for miniature drones and helmet-cams for soldiers.

A key feature of the system is that it’s made up of a large number of tiny imagers. These are small, simple cameras, each directed independently by a MEMS-controlled micro-mirror. Because there is no large lens, Pantoptes can be made flat, unlike other cameras.

A central processor 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 sub-imagers on the relevant part of the scene. Christensen gives the example of the Panoptes system looking at a building in a field.

“After a first frame or two was collected, the system could identify that certain areas, like the open field, had nothing of interest, whereas other areas, like the license plate of a car parked outside or peering in the windows, had details that were not sufficiently resolved,” he tells Danger Room. “In the next frame, subimagers that had been interrogating the field would be steered to aid in the imaging of the license plate and windows, thereby extracting the additional information.”

Read the full story.

Related links:
SMU Profile: Marc Christensen
Defense News: Sharper Image
Unfair Park: On the hilltop, SMU prof creating teensy-weensy military camera
Hi-tech lens sharpens military surveillance
Marc Christensen
Conference paper on Panoptes
Department of Electrical Engineering
Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering