US: The US-based Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has created the Pixel Network for Dynamic Visualization programme, or PIXNET, for dismounted warfighters and small combat units. The programme aims to develop helmet-mounted and clip-on camera systems that combine visible, near infrared, and infrared sensors into one system and aggregate the outputs, according to a company press statement. The PIXNET technology will ingest the most useful data points from each component sensor and fuse them into a common, information-rich image that can be viewed on the warfighter’s heads-up display and potentially be shared across units.
The base technologies that DARPA proposes to use already exist and are currently used by warfighters. However, these devices typically have dedicated functionality, operate independently of one another and provide value only to the immediate operator. Through PIXNET, DARPA seeks to fuse the capabilities of these devices into a single multi-band system, thus alleviating physical overburdening of warfighters, and develop a tool that is network-ready, capable of sharing imagery with other warfighters.
“Existing sensor technologies are a good jumping-off point, but PIXNET will require innovations to combine reflective and thermal bands for maximum visibility during the day or night, and then package this technology for maximum portability. What we really need are breakthroughs in aperture design, focal plane arrays, electronics, packaging and materials science,” said Nibir Dhar, DARPA Programme Manager for PIXNET. “Success will be measured as the minimisation of size, weight, power and cost of the system and the maximisation of functionality.”
To help boost processing power while minimising size and energy use, PIXNET sensors will interface wirelessly with an Android-based smartphone for fusing images and for networking among units. Although the primary focus of PIXNET is on sensor development, proposers are instructed to develop necessary apps to achieve the desired functionality for phone and camera.
In the case of the helmet-mounted system, DARPA’s preferred cost goal in a manufacturing environment producing 10,000 units per month is USD 3,300 per unit.