DARPA Developing Super Scope

Researchers at the Strategic Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) are developing new high resolution scopes that extend the range of viable image recognition and reduce atmospheric interference. Still in the early prototyping stage, DARPA hopes the new optical system will eventually result in a decrease of friendly fire incidents and collateral damage from military operations.

Long-term average of 100 short-exposure image frames, with super-resolution image constructed from lucky regions in these 100 image frames (Credit: Darpa) 
Long-term average of 100 short-exposure
image frames, with super-resolution image
constructed from lucky regions
in these 100 image frames (Credit: Darpa)

Called the Super-Resolution Vision System (SRVS), this new system exploits atmospheric turbulence effects that magnify pieces of images behind heat haze. The formal name for this phenomenon is atmospheric turbulence-generated micro-lensing and it creates a brief, high resolution image behind the haze. The SRVS takes many such images and collates them to create a cohesive image of the entire larger area under observation using new advances in signal processing made possible by advances in computer processing power and increased storage capabilities. 

Because of the need to interpolate the full image from fragments, the SRVS system will not operate in real time. Delays of approximately one second are anticipated before the composite image is shown to the viewer. DARPA hopes to achieve 90% facial recognition of an individual one kilometer away using a six centimeter lens that will fit into the form factor currently used for military scopes. The image resolution would be approximately three times that of current diffraction-based scopes. The increase in effective distance of the new scopes has not been released (or is not yet known).  

Part of DARPA's SRVS presentation (Credit: DARPA) 
Part of DARPA’s SRVS
presentation (Credit: DARPA)

All of this is still well in the future; at this point DARPA has merely concluded proof of concept testing that the micro-lensing phenomenon can be leveraged by combining pieces of multiple images which each have a small area of increased clarity. Current plans are to create a fourteen inch, four pound prototype by the end of 2009 with an initial deployment scheduled for in 2011 if all goes well with the testing process. 

TFOT has reported on other innovations in the field of optics including recent advances in nanobioimaging, new materials developed at Princeton University that bend light in the opposite direction from naturally occurring materials, and a new image processing technique called ISAM developed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

You can find more information on the official DARPA page for the SRVS project here (more in this DARPA presentation).