A proposed joint-transform optical correlator (JTOC) would be capable of operating as a real-time pattern-recognition processor. The key correlation-filter reading/writing medium of this JTOC would be an updateable holographic photopolymer. The high-resolution, high-speed characteristics of this photopolymer would enable pattern-recognition processing to occur at a speed three orders of magnitude greater than that of state-of-the-art digital pattern-recognition processors. There are many potential applications in biometric personal identification (e.g., using images of fingerprints and faces) and nondestructive industrial inspection.

Conventional and Proposed JTOCs differ in geometry and in the media (CCD versus holographic photopolymer) used to record holograms.
In order to appreciate the advantages of the proposed JTOC, it is necessary to understand the principle of operation of a conventional JTOC. In a conventional JTOC (shown in the upper part of the figure), a collimated laser beam passes through two side-by-side spatial light modulators (SLMs). One SLM displays a real-time input image to be recognized. The other SLM displays a reference image from a digital memory. A Fourier-transform lens is placed at its focal distance from the SLM plane, and a charge-coupled device (CCD) image detector is placed at the back focal plane of the lens for use as a square-law recorder.

Processing takes place in two stages. In the first stage, the CCD records the interference pattern between the Fourier transforms of the input and reference images, and the pattern is then digitized and saved in a buffer memory. In the second stage, the reference SLM is turned off and the interference pattern is fed back to the input SLM. The interference pattern thus becomes Fourier-transformed, yielding at the CCD an image representing the joint-transform correlation between the input and reference images. This image contains a sharp correlation peak when the input and reference images are matched.

The drawbacks of a conventional JTOC are the following:

  • The CCD has low spatial resolution and is not an ideal square-law detector for the purpose of holographic recording of interference fringes. A typical state-of-the-art CCD has a pixel-pitch limited resolution of about 100 lines/mm. In contrast, the holographic photopolymer to be used in the proposed JTOC offers a resolution > 2,000 lines/mm. In addition to being disadvantageous in itself, the low resolution of the CCD causes overlap of a DC term and the desired correlation term in the output image. This overlap severely limits the correlation signal-to-noise ratio.
  • The two-stage nature of the process limits the achievable throughput rate. A further limit is imposed by the low frame rate (typical video rates) of low- and medium-cost commercial CCDs.

In the proposed JTOC, shown in the lower part of the figure, a collimated beam (denoted the writing beam) from a diode laser would first be split into two orthogonal parts that would then be reflected at oblique angles. As in the conventional JTOC, one part of the beam would illuminate an input SLM while the other part would illuminate a reference SLM. In this case, however, there would be two Fourier-transform lenses: one for the input image and one for the reference image. The input and reference beams would intersect at the center of the Fourier-transform plane. A holographic photopolymer film would be placed in this plane for recording the interference fringes.