UK's Ministry of Defence launches IR tech competition

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A ‘novel electro-optic infrared technology’ themed competition is due to be launched in February by the UK’s Ministry of Defence’s Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE). The competition aims to inspire ideas to evolve high-performance imaging towards compact, conformal systems that can adapt their sensing modality to both the target and environmental conditions.

It is expected that a number of design studies and feasibility demonstrations will be funded, with the intention of pursuing a smaller number of those projects in the longer term.

Current electro-optic imaging systems provide a high level of imaging performance both during the day and at night, but long-range systems tend to be bulky, heavy and expensive to procure and especially to integrate onto existing platforms, according to the CDE.

Taking the high-performance EO/IR imaging turret as an example, current systems provide a multi-functional capability operating in multiple wavebands with a high level of stabilisation, rapid sight-line steering and multiple apertures for the different sensors and fields of view. Many systems are also laser enabled to provide range-finding target designation. Emerging systems even offer gated laser imaging. Through the novel EO/IR technology programme, the MOD would like to explore how this type of system could evolve, building on the performance and multi-functionality that already exists.

According to the competition guidelines, compactness might be realised by the use of novel optical configurations. These may include new material concepts (including, but not limited to, meta-materials), the radical use of advanced electro-optics to achieve flat or conformal lenses, or methods for making flat conformal windows that permit line-of-sight steering in place of conventional mirror/gimbal concepts. Alternatively, true phased array technologies, optical synthetic aperture, or direct holographic imaging may be explored.

Furthermore, multi-functionality and compactness may be achieved by using detection methods that permit simultaneous detection and discrimination from the ultraviolet to the deep infrared. Very sensitive imagers that can achieve either single photon detection, or can act in a coherent detection mode for additional functionality could also be attractive.

The MOD also hopes to investigate modern optical coding techniques and understand if these can be used to mimic current capability (laser designation, range finding and active imaging), while providing the opportunity to extend the functionality towards capabilities that would normally be associated with separate systems. A current constraint on any laser designation pod or turret is the need to include a high-energy pulsed laser source operating at 1.06μm for target designation. But, the MOD would like to relax this constraint and focus on the consequences for multi-functionality.

Through this competition, the MOD wants to decipher whether emerging technologies such as meta-materials, silicon photonics and dynamic holography are able to provide the underpinning components that would enable routes towards conformal, non-mechanical imaging system. It is hoped that it will be possible to develop a long-range imaging system, potentially building on recent advances in synthetic aperture imaging lidar techniques to collect high resolution imagery at extreme ranges.

This call will launch at an event on 25 February 2014 in London and will close 8 May 2014.

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