DOD keeps eye on imaging technology

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

Technologies.

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

purposes.

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."

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