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ULIS and BAE Systems push thermal imaging performance

17 Jun 2014

ULIS launches megapixel thermal sensor with a panoramic field of view, while BAE reduces the pixel size of its camera cores to 12 microns.

Military and commercial users of thermal imaging have new options to select from, with news that both the French company ULIS and UK-headquartered BAE Systems are offering technology upgrades.

Grenoble-based ULIS, which offers infrared imaging from the full range of sensor materials, is showing off the second generation of its “Pico1024E” product at an exhibition in Paris this week, claiming that it provides a new level of threat-detecting performance.

Aimed at military applications, the megapixel-scale thermal image sensor is said to offer rapid target detection and tracking, combined with lower power consumption of just 200 mW.

Jean-Francois Delepau, managing director at ULIS, says: “Pico1024E GenII has already stimulated interest from defense equipment customers. Its performance pushes the standards in image crispness, frame rate frequency and low power consumption to the highest levels. We expect Pico1024E GenII to open up new possibilities in the future development of thermal imaging systems.”

Thermal sensitivity for better targeting
The thermal image sensor is based on a 1024 x 768 array of 17 µm pitch pixels, with ULIS claiming higher thermal sensitivity and a faster frame rate frequency alongside the lower power consumption.

“These enhancements have increased Pico1024E GenII’s overall attractiveness to a wider range of military applications demanding a larger panoramic field of view or extended detection range (3km - 5km),” explains the firm.

Future users could include helicopter pilots and drivers of land vehicles, who would stand to benefit from the real-time thermal imaging either for night vision or situational awareness in difficult weather or dusty or smoky conditions.

Technologically speaking, one of the key upgrades to Pico1024E GenII is a better thermal sensitivity (less than 50 mK) - a 15 per cent improvement on the thermal sensitivity of the previous generation. That improvement is critical for image accuracy, for example enabling identification of a tank at a distance of 5 km.

Other technological improvements include an increased frame rate frequency of more than 100 Hz to enable fast target tracking, while ULIS claims that the lower power consumption of only 200 mW is at least twice as good as any competing products.

Smaller systems from BAE’s new 12-micron core
Meanwhile BAE Systems is claiming that its new uncooled 12 µm pixel technology will dramatically reduce both the size and cost of thermal imaging for both military and commercial users, and inspire a “new class” of systems.

Based on the “TWV640” thermal camera core - and the latest addition to the company’s “MicroIR” product family - it is said to be the first commercially available uncooled 12 µm pixel technology offering.

“Reducing the pixel size from 17 to 12 microns allows imaging system manufacturers to reduce lens size by 50 per cent and decrease optics costs by 20 per cent, without compromising image quality,” claims the firm.

“As the first to deliver a 12-micron thermal camera core, we’re providing our customers a tremendous competitive advantage, helping them drive down system costs while providing superior imagery typically associated with our MicroIR products,” said Christian Rodriguez, a business development manager at the giant defense contractor.

BAE Systems says that the new 640x480 pixel TWV640 core is able to capture images through fog, smoke, dust, and haze, at a frame rate of 60 Hz.

It is said to be compatible with off-the-shelf lenses from the usual optical component vendors, and with standard interface protocols, and suited to a wide range of applications including day/night security cameras, firefighting vision systems, process monitoring, handheld targeting systems, automotive cameras, and thermography systems.

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