Digital Version of January/February 2015 Print Edition
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DARPA looking for help in merging soldiers’ sensors into a single device
In an effort to simplify the myriad sensors carried by soldiers to detect threats, DARPA is looking for technology that would merge them into a single, lightweight, networked, multifunction device that could be mounted on a helmet or gun.
DARPA said it had created the Pixel Network for Dynamic Visualization program, or PIXNET, to apply those features to the cameras and sensors used by ground troops and small combat units for battlefield awareness and threat detection and identification.
PIXNET, said the agency, aims to develop helmet-mounted and clip-on camera systems that combine visible, near infrared, and infrared sensors into one system and combine the outputs. PIXNET technology would take in the most useful data points from each component sensor and fuse them into a common, information-rich image that can be viewed on a users heads-up display, and potentially be shared across units.
The basic building blocks for the technology already exist and are being used by soldiers, said DARPA, but the devices have dedicated functionality, operate independently and the information they gather can’t be shared.
PIXNET, said DARPA, would fuse the capabilities of all those devices into a single multi-band system, easing the amount of gear that soldiers have to carry and creating a network-ready tool, capable of sharing imagery.
“Existing sensor technologies are a good jumping-off point, but PIXNET will require innovations to combine reflective and thermal bands for maximum visibility during the day or night, and then package this technology for maximum portability. What we really need are breakthroughs in aperture design, focal plane arrays, electronics, packaging and materials science,” said Nibir Dhar, DARPA program manager for PIXNET. “Success will be measured as the minimization of size, weight, power and cost of the system and the maximization of functionality.”
To help boost processing power and minimize size and energy use, PIXNET sensors will interface wirelessly with an Android-based smart phone for fusing images and for networking among units, said DARPA. Although the primary focus of PIXNET is on sensor development, DARPA is asking developers to develop whatever apps are necessary to achieve maximum functionality for phone and camera.
In addition to technological innovation, DARPA encouraged developers to include plans to transition the low-cost camera system into mass manufacturing. In the case of the helmet-mounted system, DARPA said it is aiming at manufacturing cost goal of 10,000 units per month at $3,300 per unit.