Unless your home planet is Krypton, seeing through solid objects is a bit of a challenge. However, with these airborne infra-red peepers, everyone from law enforcement to the military to energy production companies will soon be able to spot hidden dangers in real-time.
Hyperspectral (HSI) sensors collect visual data over a wide swath of the electromagnetic spectrum then stitch it together to provide a more complete view of whatever you're looking at—including solids, gases, and obscured or hidden objects. As an Exelis press release explains:
The integrated sensor and processing system provides real-time information about the composition of gases and solids, which is critical in the detection of improvised explosive devices or leaks emanating from containers and pipeline used in a variety of industries from oil and gas to chemical manufacturing and nuclear power, among others.
However, the problem with the current generation of HSI sensors all must be cooled to well below freezing in order to accurately pick up gas and fume emanations—such as those escaping IEDs.
"We were able to overcome significant cooling requirements to ensure the sensor could collect usable data," Dr. Minda Suchan, director of material identification at Exelis, said in a press release. "This opens up new uses for LWIR HSI systems, such as looking into denied areas, from high-altitude aircraft. The LWIR HSI sensor development, along with real-time analytical processing, solves customer-identified hard problems and is a key part of the company's strategic focus on intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and analytics."
What's more, this new sensor system doesn't have to be statically attached to a plane's fuselage, which requires the aircraft to fly directly over whatever it's inspecting. That's not a huge issue when you're surveying remote oil pipelines, but it is when you're surveying secret North Korean prison camps. Luckily, the new Exelis system can be mounted on a rotating, stabilised gimbal allowing flight crews to better avoid any potential international incidents.