The military uses long-wave infrared (LWIR) cameras as thermal imagers to detect humans at night. These cameras are usually mounted on vehicles as they are too large to be carried by a single warfighter and are too expensive for individual deployment. However, DARPA researchers recently demonstrated a new five-micron pixel LWIR camera that could make this class of camera smaller and less expensive. A sensor six times smaller would make it around 36 times cheaper to make.
DARPA's Advanced Wide FOV Architectures for Image Reconstruction and Exploitation (AWARE) program has demonstrated the first LWIR camera that uses pixels only five microns across. This is the first IR camera with pixels about half the size of the photons it detects. For comparison, each pixel is about one twelfth the size of a human hair, or about one-sixth the area of current state-of-the-art. The pixels are configured in a 1280×720 focal plane array (FPA)—a relatively high resolution for an IR camera.
The five-micron-pixel infrared camera. Photo: Darpa