DARPA Wants Cheap Head-Up Displays That Work In Any Kind Of Light

Cameras that can be mounted on helmets or weapons will help warfighters see in the dark and in all kinds of weather.

PIXNet

DARPA

Warfighters have a whole suite of cameras they can use to see in the dark, through fog or smoke, and in broad daylight--but that's actually a problem, according to DARPA. Nobody wants to carry a suite of things. It would be better to have just one item that can do everything your suite could do.

DARPA wants a multi-band head-up display, which could be mounted to a helmet or a weapon scope, that combines several wavelengths of light into one image. Sunny? No problem--the camera can see in visible light. Smoke bomb blocking your view? No sweat; the camera can see thermal infrared signatures. The system would also have near-infrared capability to help users see through darkness.

A new DARPA project called the Pixel Network for Dynamic Visualization (PIXNET) seeks proposals for new sensors that can do all of this in one package. A successful proposal would be small, lightweight, low-power and low-cost, said Nibir Dhar, DARPA program manager for PIXNET. The system would communicate wirelessly with Android-based smart phones to fuse the images together, like you can see in the inset above. The warfighter would see a scene with visible imagery, thermal sensitivity and near-IR capability all in one.

Existing sensors are a good starting point, but they're not advanced enough to combine multiple functions the way DARPA wants. Combining reflective and thermal bands will be a challenge, not to mention making it ultra-portable. "What we really need are breakthroughs in aperture design, focal plane arrays, electronics, packaging and materials science," Dhar said. The solicitation is online here.