SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing

New conferences explore robotic vision, agriphotonics, industrial imaging.

01 January 2016

Practical, new sensing technologies enabling wide-ranging applications such as increasing crop productivity, improving neurosurgery, and delivering groceries by drone will be among topics at SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing (DCS) in Baltimore, MD (USA), 17-21 April.

The event, previously called SPIE DSS, will include 62 technical conferences, an education program, a three-day exhibition, a job fair, and technology-transfer workshops for the defense and commercial sensing communities.

photo of TousleyBradford Tousley, director of the Tactical Technology Office at the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will be the plenary speaker. Tousley has a PhD in electrical engineering from University of Rochester (USA) and has worked on unmanned airborne sensor technology, advanced imaging science, space situational awareness and sensors, and software development for the Department of Defense and at Logos Technologies.

The new name for the 2016 event reflects the growing commercial application of sensing, imaging, laser, infrared, and other optical technologies initially developed for defense applications. New applications using these technologies have led to the creation of commercial products, enhanced scientific research capabilities, and enabled faster and more accurate industrial inspections, such as in machine vision and quality control.

SPIE DCS includes two symposia in the Baltimore Convention Center.

graphic for SPIE DCSThe SPIE Commercial + Scientific Sensing and Imaging symposium is chaired by Ming C. Wu of University of California, Berkeley (USA) and cochaired by SPIE Fellow Majid Rabbani of Eastman Kodak (USA). It will include 24 conferences on sensor technologies that are driving new commercial applications in health care, industrial processing, manufacturing, communications, agriculture, and transportation. The technical program also includes a track focused on electronic imaging that will feature a new conference on computational image processing.

graphic for SPIE Defense + Security symposiumSPIE Defense + Security includes 38 conferences on imaging and image processing, sensors, robotics, energy harvesting, big-data analytics, biometrics, pattern and target recognition, display technologies, lasers, ocean sensing, and other optics and photonics topics. SPIE member David A. Logan of BAE Systems is chair. Donald A. Reago Jr. of the US Army Night Vision & Electronic Sensors Directorate is cochair.


Some of the newest conferences at SPIE DCS will focus on robotics, agriculture, ultrafast bandgap photonics, and long-range imaging.

Now in its third year, the conference on sensors for next-generation robotics will look at sensor packaging and sensor miniaturization. Topics will include both vision-based optical sensors, such as those used in cameras and lidar systems, and direct-contact and pressure sensors, with applications such as in robot “skin,” said SPIE member Dan Popa of University of Texas at Arlington (USA), who chairs the conference with UT Arlington colleague Muthu Wijesundara.

“Applications where new, more intelligent robots are needed cut across all dimensional scales and industrial sectors,” Popa said, and the scope of the conference will reflect that. The conference will cover emerging applications in micro- and nanosystems and devices, including for new robotics in commercially viable areas such as home management; healthcare in hospitals and assisted-living facilities; search-and-rescue activities in disaster areas; neural surgery; manufacturing; self-driving vehicles; and delivery drones.

Distributed sensors have the potential for enhancing perception, cognition, and the control capabilities of next-generation robots, Popa noted. “One exciting next-generation application is endowing humanoid robots with perception capabilities comparable with those of humans, including distributed touch through robotic skin, hearing, and vision, but also super-human perceptions, such as the ability to see in the dark or through objects.”


The conference on sensing systems for agricultural optimization and phenotyping is part of a track on industry, environment, and health applications. It will focus on topics such as unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVs), spectral imaging devices, and cameras for collecting data in research and commercial agricultural settings.

Photonics technologies in agriculture are rapidly emerging as tools to increase food production and efficiency, noted chairs John Valasek and J. Alex Thomasson, both of Texas A&M University (USA).

This is an area of increasing importance since the world’s current population of 7 billion people will increase to 11 billion by 2100, when population growth is predicted to plateau. Meanwhile, urbanization, road building, and potential climate effects are reducing land available to agriculture. Therefore, food production per-unit-area must double in the next 85 years, Valasek and Thomasson say.

Two remedies are available: optimization of crop production through precision agriculture and crop improvement through breeding and genetics, coupled with high-throughput phenotyping. Both require autonomous air- and ground-sensing systems with photonics technologies.

Conference topics will include:

  • Air- and ground-based autonomous vehicles for agriculture
  • Imaging and non-imaging sensors in agricultural applications
  • Theoretical and empirical decision-oriented data-analysis techniques, including machine learning

“The field is in an exciting period of exploration and expansion, as ground- and air-based sensor platforms with highly capable and reliable autonomy now permit highly detailed measurement of plant traits in the field,” Thomasson said.

Of particular interest are workflow issues associated with capturing and processing large-volume datasets including multiple data types at various scales, Valasek said. “These would include sensor suites and vehicles that integrate or fuse multiple types of sensors and data (lidar, optical, thermal, spectral, radar, etc.), and variable autonomy or reprogrammable autonomy for conducting precision agriculture operations,” he said.


The new conference on computational imaging is chaired by SPIE member Lei Tian of UC Berkeley and has interdisciplinary connections among optics, sensor designs, signal processing, and algorithms.

“In conventional imaging, one of the prime goals is to design ‘perfect’ lenses, mirrors, etc., to get an ideal replica of the object or scene of interest,” Tian said. “This design philosophy results in many well-known limitations. For example, one has to give up resolution for wide field of view in both photography and microscopy.”

Computational imaging is a new design frontier, he said, “that emphasizes the tight integration of physical optical design and computational post-measurement processing to yield imaging capabilities far beyond what conventional imaging can achieve. Applications are many and varied in fundamental science as well as biomedical, industrial, defense, and security.”

SPIE member Eric Kelmelis, cofounder and CEO of EM Photonics, is organizing another new conference on long-range imaging. “Improvements in sensor systems are constantly extending the distance from which we can image objects,” Kelmelis said. Tools developed my EM Photonics and other companies allow for more-accurate target identification and facial recognition a long distances, enhancing situational awareness for defense and security workers.


Starting in 2017, SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing will adopt a three-year rotation for the location of the symposium and exhibition.

After this year’s meeting in Baltimore, SPIE DCS will move to Anaheim, CA, in April 2017, and to Orlando, FL, in April 2018. The conferences for the defense and commercial sensing communities will return to Baltimore in April 2019.

By alternating locations, SPIE hopes to make it easy for different groups to attend regularly and to provide exhibitors the chance to meet new customers in three key regions in the USA.


The US Departments of Energy and Defense have eased restrictions on government employees attending scientific conferences like SPIE DCS.

The two departments issued new conference-travel guidelines that should help streamline the process for US government employees to obtain approval to attend a conference.

In a cost-saving move, the US Office of Management and Budget issued guidelines in 2012 that restricted whether and how many US government employees could participate in science and technology conferences.

Many organizations, including SPIE, have since urged government representatives to lift the rules because having national lab scientists contribute to scientific conferences is an efficient and cost-effective way to advance the mission and programmatic goals of government agencies.

Subscribe to the SPIE public policy newsletter or visit the DCS website to learn more about the new guidelines.

More information: spie.org/DCS.

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