US 20050205784 A1
A single sensor that can operate in multiple bands and display either one radiation band alone or multiple overlaid bands, using an appropriate color choice to distinguish the bands. The multiple-band sensor allows the user to look through at least one eyepiece and with the use of a switch, see scenes formed via the human eye under visible light, an II sensor, an MWIR sensor, or an LWIR sensor, either individually or superimposed. The device is equipped with multiple switching mechanisms. The first, for allowing the user to select between radiation bands and overlays, and the second, as with most thermal imaging sensors, for allowing the user to switch between “white-hot/black-hot” i.e., a polarity switch.
27. A switchable compact monocular comprising:
a first optical system for imaging at least a first band of radiation indicative of a scene onto at least one eye of a user when the switchable compact monocular is in a first or third mode;
a second optical system for imaging at least a second band of radiation indicative of the scene onto the at least one eye of the user when the switchable compact monocular is in a second or third mode; and
a switch for selecting between the first, second and third modes,
wherein the first optical system comprises an objective lens component, a first aberration correction component, a focal plane array, a display and an imaging system; and
further wherein the second optical system comprises the objective lens component, a second aberration correction component, an image intensifier and the imaging system.
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1. Field of the Invention
The invention pertains generally to imaging using multiple bands of radiation and particularly to the simultaneous imaging of multiple bands of radiation to form a scene for viewing by a user.
2. Description of Related Art
Currently, an individual seeking to view objects in dark, low level light conditions and/or poor atmospheric conditions, may rely on either image intensification sensors for the visible/near-wavelength infrared (“referred to hereafter as VIS/NIR”) or thermal infrared (IR) sensors. Further, within the IR range, separate detectors are necessary in order to detect both mid-wavelength IR (“MWIR”) and long-wavelength IR (“LWIR”). No single detection system allows an individual to simultaneously view any two of these wavelength ranges. Each sensor, independently, has significant advantages in, for example, a wide variety of military scenarios. The IR is better at detecting all types of items (e.g., targets) under most light level and meteorological conditions. Camouflage and obscurants are much less effective in the thermal band than in the VIS/NIR. However, many night missions, especially those in urban settings, favor the image intensification due to the need to read signs (e.g., alphanumerics), see through glass windows, and recognize and differentiate individuals. Unlike VIS/NIR sensors, thermal imagers do not detect lasers operating at 1.06 microns. This is significant because such lasers are used for target ranging and designation. Knowledge of such illumination by friendly or enemy forces can be vital. In addition, image intensification sensors operating in the VIS/NIR (i.e., 0.6 to 1.1 micron range) offer considerably better resolution than the IR sensors.
Uncooled IR sensors (both currently existing and those improvements in development) offer a low cost, low power approach to thermal imaging. Operating in the long wave infrared (LWIR: 7.5 to 14 microns), uncooled thermal imaging is excellent for many military applications because items of interest (e.g., enemy soldiers, vehicles, disrupted earth) almost always emit more in-band (in this case IR) energy than the background. Other applications for uncooled thermal imaging include security, hunting, monitoring and surveillance, firefighting, search and rescue, drug enforcement, border patrol and ship navigation. The current uncooled devices and even those in development (e.g., 640×480 with 25 micron pixels) have significantly lower resolution compared to image intensification (II) devices or daytime telescopes.
Image intensifiers take whatever amount of light is available (e.g., moonlight, starlight, artificial lights such as street lights) and electronically intensify the light and then display the image either directly or through the use of an electronic imaging screen via a magnifier or television-type monitor. Improvements in II technology have resulted in the GEN III OMNI IV 18-mm tube offering the equivalent of more than 2300×2300 pixels. II covers the visible and near infrared (VIS/NIR: 0.6 to 1.1 microns) and overcomes the LWIR limitations listed above. However, II is limited by the ambient light available, targets are harder to find, and camouflage/obscurants (e.g., smoke, dust, fog) are much more effective. While scientists have long seen the complementary nature of LWIR and II to achieve sensor fusion, most attempts involve the use of two parallel sensors and sophisticated computer algorithms to merge the images on a common display, a display with lower resolution than the II tube. This approach is difficult to implement for an individual handheld sensor. Currently, for example, night operations forces often carry both II and LWIR sensors, each with different fields of view and magnification, for special reconnaissance, target interdiction, and strike operations. The synergy noted above is lost because the soldier cannot use the devices simultaneously.
IR imaging devices typically provide monochrome imaging capabilities. In most situations, the ideal viewing scenario would be full color. This is of course achieved in the visible band. There are numerous situations where a user alternates between visible band viewing scenarios and IR band viewing scenarios within the span of seconds. Current imaging devices do not allow a user to either: (a) simultaneously view both the monochrome IR image and the full color visible image, or (b) change between IR monochrome imaging and full-color visible imaging without mechanically altering the imaging device or removing the device from the users field of view (e.g., as in the case of an IR helmet mounted sensor).
The obvious synergy of multiple sensor bands is difficult to achieve and totally impractical for handheld use via separate sensors looking alternately at the same scene. The solution advanced in this application is the development of a single sensor that can operate in multiple bands and display either one radiation band alone or multiple overlaid bands, using an appropriate color choice to distinguish the bands. The multiple-band sensor allows the user to look through at least one eyepiece and with the use of a switch, see scenes formed via the human eye under visible light, an II sensor, an MWIR sensor, or an LWIR sensor, either individually or superimposed. The device is equipped with multiple switching mechanisms. The first, for allowing the user to select between radiation bands and overlays, and the second, as with most thermal imaging sensors, for allowing the user to switch between “white-hot/black-hot” i.e., a polarity switch.
A further feature of the present invention is a multiple-band objective lens for imaging multiple bands of incoming radiation, including at least two of the visible band, the VIS/NIR band, the MWIR band or the LWIR band.
A further feature of the present invention is range focusing capability of the sensors which, simultaneously, is from 3 meters to infinity over a full military temperature range.
Further features of the present invention include supporting sensors and corresponding eyepiece displays as well as transmitters used to enhance the usability and efficiency of the multiple-band sensors. For example, a digital compass, a laser range finder, a GPS receiver and IR video imagery components may be integrated into the multiple-band sensor. The multiple-band sensor may also be equipped with an eyepiece for facilitating zoom magnification.
In the Figures:
FIGS. 3(a) and 3(b) are compact monoculars according to embodiments of the present invention;
FIGS. 4(a) and 4(b) are compact binoculars according to embodiments of the present invention;
FIGS. 5(a) and 5(b) are monochromatic MTF performance graphs for NIR energy passing through a lens configuration according to an embodiment of the present invention;
FIGS. 6(a) and 6(b) are monochromatic MTF performance graphs for LWIR energy passing through a lens configuration according to an embodiment of the present invention;
FIGS. 7(a)-7(d) are objective lenses according to embodiments of the present invention;
FIGS. 8(a)-8(f) are objective lenses according to embodiments of the present invention with FIGS. 8(g) and 8(h) are representative color-corrected MTF performance graphs for VIS/NIR energy passing through lens configurations 8(e) and 8(f), respectively;
FIGS. 9(a)-9(b) are objective lenses according to embodiments of the present invention; and
FIGS. 10(a) and 10(d) are objective lenses according to embodiments of the present invention and FIGS. 10(b), 10(c), 10(e), and 10(f) are MTF performance graphs for objective lenses 10(a) and 10(d), respectively.
In forming a multiple-band sensor, there are multiple factors that must be considered in order to optimize the image quality in each band simultaneously. First, it is important to keep the f/number as fast as possible, as the performance of most sensors including, the human eye, uncooled IR, including MWIR and LWIR, as well as II depend on efficient energy collection. Second, depending on the intended use for the multiple-band sensor, the size and weight of the sensor is an important factor. For example, for use as a handheld device, miniaturizing and/or compacting the components of the sensor is quite a challenge. While the size and weight requirements are less limiting for tripod mounted versions of the multiple-band sensor, they are not to be ignored. Third, there is a magnification tradeoff with the field of view that impacts the image quality and ultimately the design of the multiple-band sensor. A wide field of view is useful in wide area coverage, but limited in target identification and intelligence gathering. Too much magnification requires a heavy lens, which limits the usefulness in a handheld sensor, but is less of an issue in larger fixed (mounted) applications.
In a preferred embodiment of the present invention a single objective lens, similar to a long range camera lens and telescope, is used to image all incoming bands of energy. In a specific embodiment, the reflective objective lens consists of two mirrors, allowing for a longer focal length in a smaller space than a single mirror would require for the same focal length. This lens configuration shown in
The objective lens 100 of
In operation, the VIS/NIR energy from the scene impinges upon the corrector lens/aperture stop 110, and bounces off of the primary component 115, which is preferably as large in diameter as the corrector lens 110. The energy then reflects onto and subsequently off of a secondary component 120 that is held in front of the primary component 115, passes through the field lens 125 and forms an image on, for example, an image intensifier (e.g., tube) 130. In this objective embodiment, primary and secondary components are both reflective, but this need not always be the case.
In operation, the MWIR or LWIR energy from the scene impinges upon the corrector lens/aperture stop 210, bounces off of the primary component 215. In this embodiment, the primary component 215 diameter is similar to the corrector lens aperture 210. The energy then reflects onto and through a secondary component 220 that is held in front of the primary component 215, passes through the MWIR or LWIR lens component 225 and forms an image on, for example, an IR focal plane array (IRFPA) or the like 230. This objective is an example of a catadioptric system, wherein both reflective and refractive elements are used to achieve the desired focal points. In this embodiment, the primary component 215 is reflective and the secondary component 220 is refractive.
In a first preferred embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 3(a) and 3(b), by combining the elements of the objectives of
In operation, all radiation 305, including visible through LWIR impinges upon the combination corrector lens/aperture stop 310. All radiation is reflected off of the primary component 315 and is directed towards the secondary component 320. The secondary component 320 is designed so as to transmit either MWIR or LWIR or both, depending on the desired application of the monocular, and to reflect VIS/NIR. The transmitted IR passes through an IR component 325 for correcting aberration and impinges upon an IRFPA, where it is converted into an electronic digital image and then is displayed on, for example, a CRT, AMEL, or some other flat-panel display 360 and ultimately projected into the eye 370 of a user via an imaging system 345.
The VIS/NIR wavelengths are reflected off of the secondary component 320, pass through an aberration correction component 335 and are imaged onto an image intensifier 340 (e.g., II tube). After being intensified, the VIS/NIR scene is directly imaged onto the user's eye 370 via the imaging system 345. The imaging system 345 uses a beam combiner 350 and an eyepiece 355 to superimpose the images onto the user's eye 370. The eyepiece magnifies the output of the electronically intensified VIS/NIR scene and the digitized IR scene from the display onto the viewer's eye 370.
Different colors must be used for the two images combined in the eyepiece 345. The output of the image intensifier 340 has the characteristic yellow green color of the P-43 phosphor screen. In order to distinguish the overlaid IR image the output of the IR display 360 must be a different color. The standard ANVIS-6 NV/HUD eyepiece uses an amber display for superimposing information onto the output of the image intensifier. Thus monochrome amber is a good choice for displaying the IR image, but is merely exemplary.
Similarly, referring to
The compact monocular 300 allows the user to choose between multiple operation viewing modes, without the need to change objective or eyepiece lenses. The same scene, viewed in multiple bands (e.g., VIS/NIR, MWIR, and LWIR), may be imaged through a single eyepiece at the same magnification. Similarly, the user may view the same scene separately using at least two different imaging bands. In order to switch between various modes of operation, a switch is provided. These modes of operation include (1) only II image of the scene, (2) only IR image of the scene, and (3) overlay of the II and IR image of the scene. Further, the monocular in
The compact monocular 300 of
For the compact monocular 300 the objective lens has an f/number less than f/1.5 for the image intensifier and closer to f/1.0 for the LWIR channel. In order to achieve this, there will likely be some performance degradation at the edges of the field of view. However, this is deemed acceptable within limits, in that the user of the compact monocular 300 will center the object of interest, as is done with spotting scopes, binoculars, and even the human eye. Such degradation may involve distortion (e.g., barrel or pincushion). Depending on the application the unit is designed to accommodate, the distortion of the objective may be compensated in the eyepiece so that the net system distortion is zero. However, in either case, the distortion that is present must be nearly the same in both the image intensification and thermal channels for comfortable viewing of the images by the user. Also, the thermal image does not have to extend to the circumference of the image intensifier, but the magnification of the scene must be the same.
In second and third preferred embodiments, shown in FIGS. 4(a) and 4(b), compact binoculars having multiple-band imaging capabilities are described. Referring to
In this second preferred embodiment, the LWIR and the VIS/NIR are imaged onto one eye of the viewer 490, with the LWIR image only available to the other eye 485. Both energy bands impinge upon objective lens 405 and the VIS/NIR is reflected (thus maintaining the resolution) and the LWIR energy is passed through a beam splitter 425 appropriately coated for reflection and transmission in the selected energy bands. The transmitted LWIR energy is detected by IRFPA 430 and is imaged via thermal imaging electronics 480 through a display (e.g., AMEL) 445 and subsequently, eyepiece 460 onto the viewer's eye 485. Though the LWIR image quality passing through the beam splitter 425 is somewhat degraded, the large pixels are less impacted by this fact.
The reflected VIS/NIR passes through image intensifier 440, mounted perpendicular to the line of sight. The image intensified VIS/NIR radiation is reflected by holographic filter 450, passes through eyepiece 455 and projects the image into the viewer's eye 490. The LWIR image is displayed 465 and passes through the holographic filter 450, combining with the VIS/NIR image in the eyepiece 455 and projects it into the viewer's eye 490.
Given the binocular configuration that results from the second preferred embodiment, a day visible camera could also be included to be displayed on both display screens 465 and 445. In this case, day zoom optics 475 act upon impinging visible light which is collected by a CCD and subsequently imaged onto the displays (e.g., AMEL) 465 and 445. For this visible scene (e.g., daylight scenario), the holographic filter 450 is switched so as to transmit all visible light, which passes through eyepiece 455 and impinges upon the viewer's eye 490.
As is apparent from the previous discussion, in
In this second preferred embodiment, the first objective lens formed by at least the primary and secondary components 415 and 420, the II tube 440, and right eyepiece 460 must be fixed, the left eyepiece 455 can be moved to adjust for different users.
After passing through the objective lens 505, VIS/NIR energy is reflected off of a prism (e.g., right angle prism) 525 and passes through an image intensifier 540. The intensified VIS/NIR energy impinges upon image combiner 550, where the intensified VIS/NIR is combined with the LWIR (described later), is reflected off of the combiner 550, passes through eyepiece 555 and into the viewer's eye 590.
Similarly, after passing through objective lens 605, LWIR energy impinges upon IR detector (e.g., IRFPA) 530 and is imaged onto display (e.g., AMEL) 565. The LWIR scene imaged from the display 565 is transmitted through image combiner 550, is combined with the VIS/NIR image, passes through eyepiece 555 and into the viewer's eye 590. At the same time that the IR detected radiation is being imaged on display 565, it is simultaneously being imaged onto display 545, where the LWIR image passes through eyepiece 560 and into viewer's eye 585. Thermal imaging electronics 580 control the imaging displays 545 and 565.
Compact binoculars 500 offer a number of viewing advantages to the user including, superimposition of the dual-band images to assure registration, maximum control of the image intensifier channel, and multiple-band imaging in one or both eyes.
In a fourth preferred embodiment of the present invention, the visible band is again imaged with at least one infrared band i.e., MWIR and LWIR, using a single objective lens configuration. In the fourth preferred embodiment, the visible band is not intensified electronically using an II tube and then imaged. Instead, the scene is imaged directly using available visible light in full color and displayed to the user like a standard handheld monocular telescope. The selected IR band is displayed monochromatically as an overlay in the eyepiece (the brightness of the wavelength used in the IR overlay may have to be reduced in the visible channel with a notch filter to enhance the overlay). The imaging scenario described above is achieved using the lens monocular configuration of
In operation, all radiation bands 305 from a scene impinge upon the combination corrector lens/aperture stop 310 and reflect off of the primary component 315 towards the secondary component 320. The visible radiation component of the incoming radiation 305 reflects off of the secondary component 320 and passes through the remainder of the system and is projected into the eye 370 of the user. The IR radiation component of the incoming radiation 305 passes through the secondary component 320 and an IR aberration correction lens 325 and onto an IRFPA 330. The IRFPA digitally converts the IR radiation information through thermal control electronics 365 and images the IR scene through an AMEL 360. The converted IR monochromatic image from the AMEL 360 and the direct view full color visible image are combined at image combiner 350 and imaged by eyepiece 355 onto the user's eye 370.
For both the first and fourth preferred embodiments, using a compact 170 mm focal length catadioptric and the standard eyepiece, the result will be approximately a 6 degree field of regard for the image intensifier and likely somewhat less for LWIR. The second and third embodiments can be used with any combination of lenses in a handheld binocular configuration. Further, a likely configuration for the third embodiment is a helmet or head mounted goggles. In this case the lens and eyepiece focal lengths are selected so that the output is unity magnification. In this way the operator can walk, run and operate equipment normally. The field of regard for such a configuration is in the range of 40 to 60 degrees.
A standard 18 mm image intensifier tube is used in the preferred embodiments, but one skilled in the art recognizes that this parameter may vary depending on the desired size of the system and other system design requirements. Further, multiple IRFPA formats may be used including, but not limited to 160×120 and 320×240 with 46 to 51 micron pitch, and 320×240, and 640×480 with 25 to 28 micron pitch. The overall magnification of the first two embodiments described above is approximately a power of 7. The preferred embodiments of the present invention further contain various controls including on/off, range focus, LWIR polarity, and II/LWIR/overlay selection. To further exploit the resolution of the image tube, eyepiece zoom magnification may be included. Additionally, due to the compact nature of the systems it is possible to include auxiliary sensors such as a magnetic compass, GPS receiver and a range finder within the housing of the system. The data from these sensors may be provided to the user via, for example, the AMEL display regardless of whether or not the LWIR or MWIR image is selected. The IR digital video is also suitable for recording or relay using, for example, an RS-232 port to gain access to the thermal digital video.
While the embodiments discussed above are directed specifically to the design of a handheld multiple-band imager operating in the 130-200 mm focal length range, similar design approaches may be used to for special reconnaissance hide-sight imagers operating in the 250-350 mm focal length range and platform mounted imagers operating in the 500-700 mm focal length range. The different focal length requirements will result in the need for different objective lens components, but the same design approach of reflecting the visible and transmitting the LWIR through the secondary component is still applicable. In operation, a longer focal length results in the following trends (a) bigger obscuration formed by the secondary component, (b) easier packaging, (c) more expensive components due to their size. Generally, the LWIR drive electronics, image intensifier, housing, controls and eyepiece will remain the same for each focal length range.
The preferred embodiments discussed above are based on an existing uncooled IRFPA technology, specifically for the handheld version the IRFPA is 160×120 or 320×240 with a 25 to 51 micron pitch (e.g., supplied by Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon), with corresponding drive electronics. The IRFPA is located such that the available array can be removed and a new array positioned at the same location for demonstration and comparison. As IRFPA technology improves, the imagers can also be designed so as to be used as a test-bed for any new FPA configurations, as the arrays and drive electronics become available. The multiple-band imaging devices described herein may be powered by any conventional source, self-contained or otherwise, including, for example, a battery pack.
Returning to the objective lens designs contemplated by the invention (See
The astigmatism and distortion of the II channel lens design are indicated in
Referring to FIGS. 6(a) and 6(b), the lens configuration of the LWIR channel of
The astigmatism and distortion of the LWIR channel lens design are indicated in
Basic optical parameters of the multi-band objective lens include the effective focal length (EFL) which is preferably between 130 and 200 mm; relative aperture (f/n) which is preferably 1.5 to 1.0 or faster for the IR channel(s); pupil diameter which is, for example, 121 mm for EFL of 170 mm, pupil linear obscuration minimized to between approximately 0.25 and 0.3, wavelength band imaging between 0.6 to 14 μm, and selection of detectors for both the VIS/NIR, the MWIR, and the LWIR.
Optical performance parameters which need to be maximized in the lens design of the multiband objective lens besides the imagery include reflection/transmission per surface, transmission per lens system, relative illumination uniformity. Optical performance parameters that are to be minimized include ghosts, distortion, and any vignetting.
To optimize the optical performance (e.g., minimize chromatic aberration and other distortions) of the objective lens, the sphericity or asphericity of the corrector lens, primary component, and/or secondary components is a parameter that may be manipulated. Depending on the intended end-use for the multiple-band imaging device, at least one of these components may be aspheric in order to meet specific optical criteria. Additionally, the use of different materials for the individual lenses comprising the corrector lens and the primary and secondary components, the use of a diffractive optical element (DOE) within the components, as well as the curvatures of the individual lens (e.g., positive, negative) may also be considered in order to optimize optical performance of the objective lens. Further, field lenses to correct for aberrations may also be used.
By way of example, other possible VIS/NIR optical configurations for this application from the monochromatic performance are shown in FIGS. 7(a) through 7(d). These embodiments vary based on the number and location of aspheric surfaces. In
Referring to FIGS. 8(a) through 8(f), color-corrected lens design forms for the VIS/NIR band from 600-1,000 nm are presented. In
Referring to FIGS. 9(a) and 9(b), the LWIR band optical performance is also acceptable using the objective lens configurations of FIGS. 8(b) and 8(e), respectively. In
The IR lenses described above may be formed from any suitable material (e.g., zinc sulfide, zinc sulfide MS, zinc selenide, germanium) as is commonly understood by those skilled in the art. One skilled in the art readily understands that with the exception of those parameters detailed above, the optical parameters i.e., radius of curvature, index of refraction, diameter, material, etc., of all of the lenses including correction, field, primary, and secondary, used in the embodiments of the present invention are selectable based on the specific design requirements of each imaging system. As such, these particulars will not be discussed further herein.
The environmental parameters that are met by the preferred embodiments include those applicable to a handheld device used by military personnel, including temperature operational and storage range, shock, vibration, humidity and altitude. Commercial variations of these environmental parameters may be less demanding. The housing requirements met by the objective lens of the preferred embodiments include a sealed, protective front element and the capability for back-filling with a dry inert gas.
Packaging considerations taken into account in designing the preferred objective lenses of the present invention include filters and filter location with the objective system, window location, material, thickness distance from primary component, minimization of the number of elements comprising the objective, number of different optical materials used to compose the objective, types of surfaces (e.g., aspheric), length, diameter, and weight.
In order to allow for simultaneous range focusing, a preferred approach contemplated by this invention is to move the primary component in relationship to the secondary component, a technique that is used in other catadioptric lens applications. In this manner both wavebands will be adjusted for range. Alternatively, a second approach is to move the entire lens in relationship to the II tube and use a follower mechanism (mechanical or electrically driven) for the LWIR section. A third approach is to move the field lens(es) in front of the II tube and a follower mechanism in the LWIR optical path.
In order to keep multiple channels in simultaneous focus over the full temperature range, selection of materials for the housing and mounting brackets is made to achieve uniform focus over the range. An alternate to housing material selection for uniform focus over full temperature range is to use an electronically controlled thermal focus adjustment to compensate for discrepancies between channels when standard housing materials are used.
The applications for this type of multiple-band imaging system are numerous. To take a specific example, a firefighter, equipped with the visible/IR imaging system above, is able to go from daylight into a smoke-filled building and vice versa and maintain some amount of visual contact without ever removing the imaging system or having to switch between multiple imaging systems or components. Further, the firefighter need not choose between visible and IR, but may simultaneously maximize his/her viewing capability by utilizing both views at all times. Other applicable users include all emergency personnel (e.g., police, search & rescue), the military, sportsman (e.g., hunters), ship operators, aircraft operators, and the like. This type of compact imaging system is useful in any situation where there could be a fluctuation or shift from visible to IR viewing conditions and vice versa.