Researchers have created a new thermal imaging camera that allows soldiers to see previously undetectable hidden objects.
For about 30 years, researchers have known that man-made objects, such as trucks, aircraft, buildings, and vehicles, emit partially polarized thermal radiation. In contrast, natural objects, such as grass, soil, trees, and bushes, emit thermal radiation with very little polarization. With the assistance of the private sector, we have been developing a special type of thermal camera that can record imagery based solely on the polarization state of the light rather than the intensity.
The most recent discovery made by the team involves the ability to detect and identify specific human subjects in complete darkness.
Before their study, traditional thermal imaging was the only way to see humans at night. Unfortunately, such imagery suffers from ghosting, which causes detailed facial features for human identification to be lost. Fine facial details emerge when polarization information is included in the thermal image, resulting in a thermal polarimetric image, allowing facial recognition algorithms to be applied.
Researchers are working hard to reduce the size of the camera platform and make the systems more affordable.