NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Inframetrics, Billerica, MA, have unveiled the world's smallest long-wavelength infrared camera, a cutting-edge device with great promise for medicine and commerce.

The palmcorder-sized camera, known as the Quantum Well Infrared Photodetector (QWIP) Infracam, was developed by JPL's Microdevices Laboratory in partnership with Inframetrics as a successor to the previous generation of hand-held QWIP cameras.

"The new version of QWIP is four times lighter, has five times less volume and uses 10 times less power than the previous QWIP camera," said JPL technologist Dr. Sarath Gunapala, who helped develop the QWIP technology. "Because of its portability, low power requirements and high-resolution infrared imaging, I envision a wide range of industrial, geologic, medical, law enforcement and military uses."

Dr.Gunapala pointed out the QWIP Infracam may be useful for maintaining product quality control by detecting overheated parts and faulty welds. "It has great potential for surveillance, concealed weapon detection, medical imaging and observation of volcanoes and other phenomena on Earth," he said.

The camera's commercial and safety potentials were also noted by Infracam's Vice President of Research and Development, Norm Stetson, who said, "The camera will be useful whenever heat is a symptom of a fault, such as a loose bolt in an electrical substation or a leak in a roof."

The QWIP camera also has potential use for firefighters in locating hotspots and engaging in rescue missions. This application got a trial run during the October 1996 fires in the California beach community of Malibu. The previous generation QWIP camera enabled the crew of a KCAL-TV news helicopter to survey the fire scene and find lingering hotspots.

The new, smaller camera weighs 1.1 kilograms (2.5 pounds), including the battery, viewfinder and a 50-millimeter focal length infrared lens. It can run for more than two hours on a standard camcorder battery.

The camera features a large-area, long wavelength QWIP focal plane array, which gives it greater sensitivity, resolution and stability than previous infrared cameras. The array can detect infrared radiation in the 8-to 9-micrometer (millionths of a meter) wavelength range. These wavelengths are 20 times longer, or lower in energy, than visible light. At these wavelengths, objects at room temperature glow the same way red-hot objects glow when viewed by the naked eye.

The new QWIP camera's focal plane array was developed at JPL, while Inframetrics built the anti-reflection coated germanium lens assembly, the camera body, the electronics and the cryogenic cooler, which runs at 71 degrees Kelvin (-326 degrees Fahrenheit). The camera utilizes the AE-166 readout multiplexer, an electronic package which works in conjunction with the focal plane array. The multiplexer was developed by Amber, a subsidiary of Raytheon Co.

Funding for the array was supported jointly by the Advanced Technology and Mission Studies Division of NASA's Office of Space Science, and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. Camera development was sponsored by the U.S. Army Night Vision Directorate.

For more information visit the QWIP home page at:

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