Monday, November 8, 2010

Shimmer vision binoculars see further thanks to heat haze

Heat haze usually blocks your view of distant objects. But a new kind of binoculars use it to see further than possible through clear air.

The Super-Resolution Vision System (SRVS) is funded by the US military research agency DARPA. It exploits the fact that the distortions of a heat haze can fleetingly act like a lens, magnifying a clear view of objects behind it.

The SRVS binoculars automatically collects those "lucky regions" when trained on shimmering air. They can then be digitally stitched together into a single continuous view with more detail than possible without the heat haze. This slideshow provides more detail and some example images.

The SRVS system can even beat the diffraction limit that applies to any standard optical device, set by a lens' diameter and the wavelength of light.

DARPA hopes SRVS will provide 90% accurate facial recognition of a moving individual from 1 km away, using a 6-centimetre lens. That's three times better than existing telescopes manage in much more favourable conditions.

However, because the technique relies on the combination of images from a large number of frames, it will not be operating in real time. Researchers are aiming for a refresh rate of one image per second.

Proof-of-principle experiments carried at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico with US Army and Marine Corps snipers have shown that the technique can significantly increase the range at which targets can be identified.

The next stage will be to refine the technology so that it is small and robust enough for battlefield use. DARPA has called for a finished product less than 2 kg in weight and is less than 35 cm long. The prototype should be tested in 2009, with finished units being delivered to Special Operations units in 2011.

The same principle could be applied to other optical systems affected by atmospheric turbulence, such as astronomical telescopes.

SRVS seems to be one of DARPA's better ideas. Check out some of its worst, including telepathic spies and a mechanical elephant.

David Hambling, New Scientist contributorLabels: gadgets, military, weapons

Posted by Tom at 5:10 PM

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