From The Editor | May 1, 2012

3 Technologies People Were Talking About At SPIE DSS

By Ron Grunsby, Editor

Last week in Baltimore, I joined more than 6,700 attendees — the most ever for a SPIE Defense, Security, And Sensing (DSS) conference and exhibition — to witness the latest advancements in optical science and engineering, including lasers, sensors, and imaging systems. The event also set new records in the technical program, with 2,450 presentations, and in the exhibition, with 540 exhibitors. The number of exhibit visitors increased by 18% over last year’s event.

The world's largest unclassified conference and exhibition for defense, homeland security, and sensing applications moved to the Baltimore Convention Center this year after many years in Orlando. One of the goals of the move was to encourage more participation by researchers and managers at key government labs and companies.

“Moving SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing to Baltimore has succeeded in bringing the event closer to the government community, research labs, and industry,” said Peter Hallett, SPIE director of marketing and industry relations. “The historical focus on ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] and CBRNE [chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and enhanced conventional weapons], using lasers, sensors, and high-end imaging has expanded into environmental sensing, food safety, and commercial applications of infrared cameras.”

SPIE DSS featured many interesting technologies, including trace element detection and various approaches to thermal imaging.

Trace Element Detection

Trace element detection technology had a significant presence. “The event brings together a lot of developers of photonic sensors that measure the spectroscopic signatures of materials such as chemicals, biological materials, trace gases, and toxins,” Hallett said. Applications also include oceanography, pollution control, precision agriculture, and pathogen detection.

I spent some time with Telops, which was introducing its new real-time gas detection and identification software, Reveal D&I. It allows the user to detect a large portfolio of gases simultaneously and can be used for the monitoring of chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial chemicals, leak detection, and pollution. Reveal D&I is designed for use with the Telops Hyper-Cam, a standoff infrared hyperspectral imaging sensor.

“Standoff detection and identification of trace solid chemicals has become a rapidly growing application for our Hyper-Cam hyperspectral imager,” said Vincent Farley, business development manager at Telops. “Telops has demonstrated successful results for this challenging application in both ground-based and airborne configurations.”

More information can be found in their application notes.

Very Low-Cost Thermal Imaging

Boston Electronics showcased a very low-cost 32 x 31-element thermopile focal plane from Heimann Sensor with a price of $200. This price does not include any drive or control electronics, a housing, or a video screen. This is an OEM price for quantities of around 5,000 per year. Applications include security, process monitoring, firefighting/rescue, facilities maintenance, machine/equipment maintenance, and airborne surveillance.

“Imagine you are at a trade show and someone smells something hot,” said Jim Melnyk, applications engineer at Boston Electronics. “Without this technology, a facilities manager may have to get on a cherry picker and look around, and it would be a disruption. With this device, he can simply hold it up and pinpoint the hot spot.”

A new class of products is being designed around these devices in which a simple visible image is overlaid or “fused” with the IR image to create a new generation of low-cost thermal imagers. Some of their customers are actively building prototypes.

Thermal Camera Suitable For Mounting On Helmets

FLIR Systems featured its Quark longwave infrared thermal core camera, which is available in 336 x 256 and 640 x 512 resolution, both with 17-micron pixels. The camera is 22 mm x 22 mm x 12 mm (less lens) and operates from -40°C to +80°C.

Quark is designed for thermal imaging applications that require minimum camera volume and weight, but is rated for extreme shock environments. It is suitable for mounting on helmets. A lens-less camera body is available for OEM customers.

“Adoption onto a helmet takes a little time because someone has to engineer the interfaces, display, etc.,” said Dr. Jay James, VP, business development, cores and components commercial systems. “If a company that wants to do this is really good, it can be on a helmet in six months.”

Hot Technologies For 2013

At Thursday morning’s exhibitor breakfast, Kenneth R. Israel, 2012 symposium co-chair, revealed several hot technologies that are under consideration for inclusion in the 2013 conference, including terahertz technology, free-electron lasers, handheld devices in food safety, robotic technologies, and data-to-decisions, involving intelligence gathering via UAVs and satellites.

As important as the development and advancement of technology is to this group, attendees at the breakfast were especially happy to hear that there are no budget cuts currently planned in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, according to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.