DOD keeps eye on imaging technology
- By George I. Seffers
- Jun 12, 2000
An innovative surveillance device capable of giving military and civilian
personnel a 360-degree view of dangerous or hard-to-reach locations is rapidly
capturing the imagination of Defense Department officials, according to
military and industry sources.
The device was invented by researchers at Columbia University and subsequently
licensed to a 1997 start-up called RemoteReality, formerly known as CycloVision
Now the Office of the Secretary of Defense, officials for three separate
programs within Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and some individual
service research labs are flocking to adapt the technology for their own
The device is similar to a video camera that can be rotated 360 degrees,
except that it surveys 360 degrees simultaneously without being rotated.
The idea is to provide viewers with so-called immersive imagery — that they
are immersed in the image on the computer screen.
At first glance, the images appear to be traditional digital photographs.
But by clicking on the image and moving the computer mouse to the left and
right, or up and down, the viewer can see the entire omnidirectional image.
DARPA awarded RemoteReality a $100,000 Small Business Innovation Research
contract late last month to conduct the second phase of the program, during
which it will continue development and integration.
During the initial phase of the program, the company already improved
resolution of the image by about four times, going from the resolution of
a TV screen to a 1,000-by-1,000 pixel capability.
"What happens is that you start off with something that can be a conventional
camera, and you're taking all those pixels and spreading them out 360 degrees,"
said George Lukes, DARPA's manager of the Image Understanding program. "You're
trading resolution for this very wide field of view."
A computer using the product requires an Intel Corp. Pentium processor
operating at a minimum of 166 MHz, with 32M of RAM and running Microsoft
Corp.'s Windows 95, 98 or NT 4.0.
As part of its effort to build a smart sensor network, the Pentagon
will demonstrate the technology in August at an urban combat training site
located at Fort Benning, Ga. Furthermore, three program offices within DARPA — Tactical Mobile Robotics, Tactical Sensors and Small Unit Operations — are adapting the technology to meet their own needs. The Office of Naval
Research and the Army's Night Vision Laboratory are also exploring possible
uses for the technology.
Possible military applications include installing the sensor on a small
robot, which could be sent into a building in an urban combat situation
to transmit real-time images back to the robot's operator or a command center
up to two miles away. In addition, the device can be installed in a clear
sphere and rolled into place or, if wrapped in a more durable package, might
be dropped onto the battlefield from an aircraft.
One analyst agreed that the technology offers a potential military advantage.
"I assume that would be a great application," said Ron Glaz, program
manager for digital imagery at International Data Corp., an information
technology consultancy. "You can view the file on the Internet without actually
having to be in the same area, without having to be in the same country,
and yet feel like you're right there at the location."
In addition to military surveillance, the technology promises to be useful
for an array of commercial purposes, according to Hapet Berberian, Remote-
Reality's senior vice president and general manager for integrated systems.
Possible commercial and civilian uses include: creating interactive
World Wide Web sites; video teleconferencing; automobile safety; home or
business security; pipe inspections; and even "nanny cams" that parents
can use to monitor the behavior of child-care workers.
"Because we are a small business, we have to be careful not to spread
ourselves too thin," Berberian said. "We have to choose the applications
we can do now and grow into the rest."