Dept. of Defense adds $2 million for Lyle School camera research

PANOPTES concept artSMU research into smart, ultra-slim camera technology has won another $2 million in U.S. 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 DoD 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 a team of graduate and undergraduate students are developing a new generation of camera systems that produce sharp, clear images in a system as flat and as thin as a stack of two credit cards. 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.

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 Delores Etter, a former Deputy Undersecretary 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.

Read more from SMU News
More on the PANOPTES project from the SMU Reseach blog

Research Spotlight: Tiny cameras with big impact

Panoptes conceptual artIn Greek mythology, Argus Panoptes was a giant sentry with a hundred eyes. In the lab of Electrical Engineering Associate Professor Marc Christensen, Panoptes is a camera technology that combines images from dozens of tiny lenses to focus on a big picture.

Lens performance tends to improve with size, which is why a small cell phone camera can’t produce a very good image. Panoptes uses a computer to combine overlapping images from the small lenses to produce a clear photo without the size and weight of a large lens.

The technology is being developed with funding from the U.S. military for surveillance by small aircraft at low altitudes. The research should eventually provide helmet-mounted surveillance equipment for soldiers on the ground.

Christensen, chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering in SMU’s 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.

Read more at the SMU Research blog.

In the news:

Danger Room (Wired): DARPA’s smart, flat camera is packed with beady eyes
Unfair Park (Dallas Observer): On the hilltop, SMU prof creating teensy-weensy military camera
Defense News: Sharper image for military surveillance