The proposed technology intends to improve the future air vehicles' situational awareness by providing a novel 3D perception capability targeting the critical for the AAM applications gap between currently available short-range automotive LiDAR and long-range radars with the limited transversal and temporal resolution, especially for the obstacle-rich urban environment. It will provide high-contrast day/night and all-weather image data, independent of GPS that allows robust depth sensing at hundreds-to-thousands of meters range and high vehicle speed. This robustness of depth perception contributes to the overall safety of NAS operations.
We propose a multi-sensor long-wave infrared (LWIR) 3D technology that mitigates the limitations of the compact uncooled thermal sensors: low contrast, low resolution, and high thermal inertia. The novel sensor configuration, calibration methods, and image processing algorithms
yields composite system performance by far exceeding that of the individual COTS thermal imagers' performance. Using the LWIR sensors with noise-equivalent temperature difference (NETD)=40 mK, this technology will demonstrate system-equivalent NETD of 10 mK in the intrascene mode and 1 mK for the low-contrast environmental features, by order of magnitude exceeding the performance of cryogenic photon detectors in the traditional binocular configuration.
This proposal's research objective is to build the LWIR/EO multi-sensor prototype and demonstrate the dramatic improvement of the microbolometer-based LWIR detectors sensitivity, especially for the 3D measurements and motion blur mitigation. The results of this research will enable passive thermal 3D perception systems for a broad spectrum of environmental conditions. It will pave the way to using large arrays of low SWaP-C microbolometer devices advanced by consumer thermal imaging products.
The resulting low SWap-C thermal depth sensing system will enable situational awareness for Autonomous Air Vehicles for the Advanced Air Mobility project. It will provide highly accurate 3D information regarding the surrounding environment, including low-contrast static and moving objects, at far distances, such as 1000 meters, and in degraded visual conditions (in the dark, fog, or blizzard), in GPS-denied areas. Passive depth sensing in low contrast environments can be useful for Space Technology Mission Directorate planetary explorations.
We target the advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicle market. LWIR 3D provides a longer range than LIDARs and prevents fatalities by detecting high contrast live organisms in any weather conditions.
It also provides a passive depth-sensing method for stealth operations in military applications, such as navigation for military vehicles and head-mounted thermal 3D.