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Bringing colour vision to infrared sensing Return to case studies page

Professor Lorenzo Faraone AM, WA node - Defence, biomedical devices, environmental monitoring, mining, viticulture and agriculture
Infrared ‘night vision’ technology is of major importance to many homeland and international defence systems. But existing infrared is unreliable and cumbersome, producing unclear lack and white images. Researchers at the University of Western Australia have developed a new class of infrared sensors.

The system is the equivalent of a digital colour video camera, but operating in the infrared part of the spectrum rather than the visible. The spectrometer measures the energy at many separate infrared wavelengths, not just the equivalent of ‘black and white’ as in regular infra red night vision. Using ANFF facilities, these spectrometers were miniaturised essentially producing a ‘spectrometer on a chip’.

The technology is now lightweight, robust, compact, fast, accurate and inexpensive. This new class of sensor will be a core component of future allied combat capabilities. The sensors will be used by ground forces and unmanned aerial vehicles. It will assist soldiers operating in cluttered environments and urban areas, enabling them to scan for threats and targets from safer distances. Deaths from friendly fire will be reduced, as targets are better identified with colour images. Lives will be saved as a result of this technology.

Beyond Defence Significantly, the new infrared technology has wider applications in biomedical imaging, environmental monitoring, mining, viticulture and agriculture. Agriculture, for instance, has traditionally used laboratory infrared spectroscopy to analyse and carbon and nitrogen concentrations in soils, and levels of protein, starch, oil and moisture in grains. A major factor limiting the widespread use of the technology in the field has been the lack of a robust, low-cost portable instrument for acquiring data.

Lightweight, hand-held detectors containing the spectrometer-on-a chip, will now enable farmers to conduct real-time soil monitoring and characterisation of grain during harvesting. The group is now fabricating linear infrared detector arrays for commercial applications such as airborne imaging.

Infrared airborne imaging allows not only visualisation of features on the ground but also easy identification of constituents of the ground. Through the spectral signatures of the surface materials, one can rapidly identify and accurately map the surface. This is highly attractive for mineral exploration, energy resources, coastal mapping and environmental monitoring.