PARIS — Selex ES says it is about to nearly double the range of infrared cameras thanks to a new technique that packs four times as many IR pixels into a camera than current products.
UK-based researchers at the Finmeccanica unit say their new IR technology, called SuperHawk, will recognize vehicles at night at a range of 12-13 kilometers, up from the seven-kilometer range of similar sized, current products.
"It's like moving from a standard TV image to a HD TV image," a Selex spokesman said at the Paris Air Show.
The new sensor will pick up temperature differences as small as one-fiftieth of a centigrade.
While the current industry standard sees 330,000 pixels packed into a 10.2mm-by-8.2mm space, the new product can fit in 1.3 million pixels, a fourfold increase, the spokesman said.
The pixels measure 8 microns, each one-twelfth the thickness of a human hair, which the firm has described as the smallest production pixels in the world.
More important, the pixels do not suffer from what is called "cross-talk" where signals leak from pixel to pixel, creating a blurred image.
"People have been shrinking pixels, but we are the first to eliminate cross-talk," said the spokesman.
The normal method for creating infrared detecting crystals involves dipping a wafer board into a molten alloy. Selex's new method, called metal organic vapor phase epitaxy, involves passing vapor over the wafer to create the crystals. That result means that the photo diode structure required for IR sensing can be grown directly onto the crystal. Etching the crystal then creates the separate, individual pixels.
"The traditional method involves adding material to create each individual photo diode, which can lead to cross-talk if they are too close," the spokesman said. "The etching keeps ours apart, resulting in a much sharper image."
The spokesman said Selex ES had now produced samples of the new sensor and would start volume production in 2016. "We will focus on land-based and hand-held sensors where size is important," he said.