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Darpa's Smart, Flat Camera Is Packed With Beady Eyes

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soldier with helmut-cam

A helmut-cam for soliders is a prospective application of the Panoptes camera system composed of numerous mini sensors.

Credit: Southern Methodist University

Southern Methodist University professor Marc Christensen, backed by funding from the U.S. Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has developed Panoptes, an ultra-slim camera technology that combines images from numerous low-resolution sensors to create a high-resolution picture. Panoptes can be used to create powerful, lightweight cameras that are only five millimeters thick. The technology could be employed in miniature drones or helmet-cams for soldiers, Christensen says.

The technology features tiny imagers, which are cameras operated by a microelectro-mechanical systems-controlled micro-mirror. A central processor combines the smaller images into a single image. The system is capable of identifying areas of interest and concentrating the sub-imagers on important areas. Christensen provides an example of when the Panoptes system photographed 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 says. "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."

The system also is capable of combining the overlapping images to eliminate the noise that is common in low-resolution imagers such as camera phones while still maintaining a frame rate of about 30 to 60 frames per second.

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