Guarding giants with tiny protectors

Oct 23, 2005

How do you build an infrared (IR) camera that is small enough to fit on a mini-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) without cryogenic cooling? Call in the nanobots.

Researchers working with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) have developed a way to build extremely small sensors using nanorobot fabrication. This new process, created by Harold Szu and James Buss of ONR and implemented by Xi Ning of Michigan State University, allows a human operator using a powerful microscope and hand-held controller to manipulate nano-sized contact points remotely--like using extremely small hands--to construct the pixel elements that will form the heart of the sensor. Each pixel will be composed of carbon nanotubes, which have nanoscale diameters and submicron lengths. Because of the one-dimensional nature of carbon nanotubes, they have significantly lower thermal noise than traditional semi-conductors. A full-sized camera incorporating this technology would be inexpensive and lightweight--about one tenth the cost, weight, and size of a conventional digital camera.

The reason for making such a small sensor has to do with the largest of things--protecting multibillion-dollar aircraft carriers and their thousands of Sailors. Today, missiles have gotten smaller, stealthier, and more difficult to detect than ever--and you don't need to have the budget of a superpower (or even be a power at all) to buy or manufacture them. To improve the ability of carrier strike groups to detect these missiles over the horizon, the U.S. Navy is searching for ways to augment its surveillance capabilities with a covert team of mini-UAVs equipped with passive sensors that can cruise near the ocean surface at slow speeds for many hours.

One of the salient features distinguishing a missile plume from flare camouflage is the unique characteristics of a plume's IR signature, especially in the mid-IR spectrum. The signal-to-noise ratio of a conventional IR detector array operating in the ocean environment, however, demands the use of cumbersome liquid nitrogen cryogenic cooling for all current mid-IR spectrum cameras. Unfortunately, a mini-UAV's payload limitation does not allow such a bulky technology on board--but a small UAV is possible with the advent of nano-based sensors.

The proposed IR camera is being considered for other applications as well, including the field of breast cancer detection. "This new technology will revolutionize how sensors, cameras, and countless other medical devices will be made by a nanorobot, which can respond to public demands of non-contact examinations for early cancer screening at every household," said Father Giofranco Basti of the Pontifical Lateran University at the Vatican City, Rome, Italy. Next spring, the university will conduct a screening test bed of early breast tumor treatment using this new technology in collaboration with ONR.

Source: Office of Naval Research

Explore further: Nanoionics: A versatile system for constructing ion-conducting channels on monolayers

Related Stories

Germany still has some way to go to 'smart factories'

Apr 19, 2015

Collaborative robots and intelligent machinery may have wowed the crowds at this year's Hannover Messe, but experts see German industry as having some way to go towards incorporating them on factory floors ...

Mercury MESSENGER nears epic mission end

Apr 19, 2015

A spacecraft that carries a sensor built at the University of Michigan is about to crash into the planet closest to the sun—just as NASA intended.

Recommended for you

A new wrinkle for cell culture

Apr 23, 2015

Using a technique that introduces tiny wrinkles into sheets of graphene, researchers from Brown University have developed new textured surfaces for culturing cells in the lab that better mimic the complex ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.