A new imaging technology can quickly give users accurate three-dimensional depictions of objects being tracked, whether they are incoming missiles or the faces of suspects in a crowd. The technology, being developed by Visidyne of Burlington, MA, has numerous applications beyond missile defense. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) originally funded the company through a 2003 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II contract.

Visidyne’s three-dimensional LADAR imaging technology provides a real-time tool for 3D rendering, surveillance, and tracking tasks.
The system’s basic components are a laser imager (using a laser or a laser diode array as an illumination source), sensors, and a processor. The patented system looks out at objects much like a regular camera does, registering them in two dimensions; for example, objects such as a military tank, an obstacle in the road, or a human face in a crowd. But the way the system illuminates those targets in that 2D view allows the company to extract 3D images that can give human users (or sophisticated analysis software) a better view of a scene from which to make better decisions about actions to take. This system could help surveillance cameras distinguish human faces from photographs, or it could give intelligence or security users more accurate 3D renderings of targets of interest.

The speed at which the system can process and render image data offers both military and law enforcement users the ability to make split-second decisions, as well offering a key competitive advantage: other LADAR systems do not provide the same measurements in real time.

The viewing range for the technology can be configured according to application requirements. For ground-based applications, such as facial recognition for security cameras, the range could be configured for less than 1.5 meters.

A “Three-Phase” Approach

The key to the technology’s processing speed and 3D renderings relies on illuminating the target with modulated light (at frequencies of a million cycles per second or faster, depending on application needs), and then measuring the light that comes back using a “three-phase” approach. Specifically, the technique involves measuring recurring modulated light at three phases in time to get three images. The approach is akin to watching someone on a dance floor while a strobe light flashes.

The technology can then process and analyze the subtle or not-so-subtle changes in light reflectance, distance, and brightness in those three images to effectively determine and render the 3D shape of that target’s surfaces. And the more an object rotates, or the more the imager rotates around an object, the more complete the 3D rendering of the object can become.

The potential for this technology extends far beyond military applications into areas such as video gaming, where the approach could be used to render more exact likenesses of players on screen, or where imaging (and then tracking) the shape and position of a player’s hand could serve as a means to control the video game. The system shows promise in the areas of building and perimeter security, to monitor people trying to access secure areas. Other potential uses are in the industrial processing arena; namely, in monitoring the shape of pills being prepared for packaging at pharmaceutical plants. In factories, the technology also could help spot misaligned or missing bottle caps or circuit-board components. In automobiles or robotic vehicles, the technology could be coupled with controls to help vehicles identify and avoid obstacles.

The system incorporates an image-processing chip developed through a partnership with MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. (The current proof-of-concept prototype incarnation of the system substitutes a three-processor setup using Kodak charge-coupled devices.) The final version of the system would incorporate a processor integrated with the system’s focal plane array to do nearly instantaneous non-mechanical scanning — looking at and processing every image pixel on the array electronically at the same time, rather than looking at each pixel sequentially.

For more information on Visidyne’s LADAR imaging technology, visit http://  info.hotims.com/28057-171. (Source: Joe Singleton/NTTC; MDA TechUpdate, Missile Defense Agency, National Technology Transfer Center Washington Operations)