NASA’s Langley Research Center researchers have developed an automatic measurement and control method for smart image enhancement. Pilots, doctors, and photographers will benefit from this innovation that offers a new approach to image processing. Initial advantages will be seen in improved medical imaging and nighttime photography. Standard image enhancement software is unable to improve poor quality conditions such as low light, poor clarity, and fog-like conditions. The technology consists of a set of comprehensive methods that performs well across a wide range of conditions encountered in arbitrary images. Conditions include large variations in lighting, scene characteristics, and atmospheric (or underwater) turbidity variations. NASA is seeking market insights on commercialization of this new technology, and welcomes interest from potential producers, users, and licensees.

An aerial photo before (left) and after (right) smart image enhancement.

The innovation improves upon the performance of passive automatic enhancement of digital images. The innovation brings the technique of active measurement and control to bear upon the basic problem of enhancing the digital image by defining absolute measures of visual contrast, lightness, and sharpness. This is accomplished by automatically applying the type and degree of enhancement needed based on automated image analysis.

The foundation of the processing scheme is the flow of digital images through a feedback loop whose stages include visual measurement computation and servo-controlled enhancement effect. The cycle is repeated until the servo achieves acceptable scores for the visual measures, or reaches a decision that it has enhanced as much as is possible or advantageous. The servo-control will bypass images that it determines need no enhancement.

The system determines experimentally how much absolute degrees of sharpening can be applied before encountering detrimental sharpening artifacts. The latter decisions are stop decisions that are controlled by further contrast or light enhancement, producing unacceptable levels of saturation, signal clipping, and sharpness.

The invention was developed to provide completely new capabilities for exceeding pilot visual performance by clarifying turbid, low-light-level, and extremely hazy images automatically for pilot view on heads-up or heads-down display during critical flight maneuvers. Other possible applications include expanded enhancement capabilities in photography, improved automobile driver visibility, real-time digital enhancement of videos, medical imaging, thermal and night vision for surveillance systems, and enhanced vision and targeting for military pilots.

NASA is actively seeking licensees to commercialize this technology. Please contact The Technology Gateway at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to initiate licensing discussions. Follow this link for more information: http://technology.nasa.gov/patent/TB2016/LAR-TOPS-61 .