posted on Jul, 9 2010 @ 04:44 AM
The technology could be linked to automatic braking systems that stop the car when a person or animal looms out of the darkness, or "augmented
reality" style head-up displays that show otherwise invisible objects on the driver's screen.
The new cameras are suitable for everyday use in cars because they work at room temperature. Most cameras that work in the long-wave infrared spectrum
- the bit that objects at body temperature are visible in, like humans and animals - need to be constantly kept cool, to around 80 Kelvin (-193C or
-315F). THat is prohibitively difficult and expensive to do in road vehicles.Room-temperature infrared cameras do exist, but the technology is largely
held by the US military and almost impossible to get in Europe.
However, a German research group, the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS, has created a room-temperature sensor, the
Infrared Focal Plane Array (IRFPA), that will be made available on the open European market.
The initial tests of the IRFPA have been successful, with scientists able to produce clear images using the sensor.
What makes the IRFPA different from normal infrared cameras is that its detectors, known as "microbolomoters", convert heat signals directly into
digital information, without needing to first be translated via an analogue signal. An array of microbolometers provide a two-dimensional image.
The chief scientist behind the IRFPA, Dr Dirk Weiler, believes the technology will have applications beyond motoring. He says: "Mobile devices in
particular should benefit from the new development."
The lack of a cooling mechanism will save weight and increase battery life time, meaning that hand-held infrared devices could become commonplace.
IMS believes that applications will include firefighting, when the technology could detect hotspots, or people trapped in smoke-filled rooms.