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DARPA demonstrates 5µm pixel LWIR camera

DRS Technologies Inc., working on the DARPA Advanced Wide FOV Architectures for Image Reconstruction and Exploitation program, has created the first long-wave infrared (LWIR) camera that uses pixels only 5µm across, according to DARPA.

This is the first IR camera with pixels about half the size of the photons it detects, DARPA reports. Each pixel is about one-twelfth the size of a human hair, or about one-sixth the area of current state-of-the-art. The pixels are configured in a 1280x720 focal plane array (FPA)—a relatively high resolution for an IR camera.

The benefits of developing smaller pixels for LWIR cameras are similar to those in visual cameras, such as what may be found on a cellphone. Smaller pixels mean smaller optical components and packaging without forfeiting sensitivity, resolution or field of view. A higher density of pixels over a given area makes it easier to capture the photons from, and thus image, a target. The cumulative result is a smaller, lighter and more portable LWIR camera.

Darpa 5micron

DRS Technologies Inc., working on a DARPA image reconstruction program, has created the first long-wave infrared camera that uses pixels only 5µm across.

The military uses LWIR cameras as thermal imagers to detect humans at night. These cameras are usually mounted on vehicles because they are too large to be carried by a single person and are too expensive for individual deployment. However, DARPA researchers recently demonstrated a new five-micron pixel LWIR camera that could make this class of camera smaller and less expensive.

These new LWIR cameras may also be less expensive than current sensors because the cost of FPAs is proportional to chip area. FPAs are processed on a given wafer size. The more FPAs that can be printed on a single wafer, the lower the cost per FPA. Smaller pixels will therefore reduce the size, weight, power and cost. DARPA hopes that with appropriate optical adjustments, the advantages of smaller pixel FPAs will find a home in a multitude of next generation applications.