Highlights from SPIE DCS 2016

Sensor technologies for safe food, airports and medical diagnoses.

30 June 2016

Sensors and imaging systems for detecting explosives, infrared cameras for the consumer market as well as for greater safety in public spaces, and technologies to help automated systems “see,” “taste,” and diagnose medical conditions were among imagination- and attention-grabbing applications at SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing (DCS) in Baltimore, MD (USA) 2016.

Nearly 5000 scientists, engineers, product developers, suppliers, and program managers filled the convention center in April for the annual international conference, exhibition, and job fair. Next year’s SPIE DCS will be held 9-13 April in Anaheim, CA, a hub of aerospace and technology and the birthplace of SPIE in 1955. Orlando, FL (USA), will be the venue for the 2018 meeting, and the meeting will return to Baltimore in 2019.

This year’s technical program included more than 2000 presentations organized into two symposia, Defense + Security and Commercial + Scientific Sensing and Imaging. Topical tracks covered the fast-growing application areas of agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and fiber-optic sensing.

An expanded industry program ran during the three-day expo with speakers including William Chappell, director of the Microtechnology Office at the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and IMEC business development director Maarten Willems, and other industry leaders.

More than 200 engineers and scientists attended courses in the suite of 26 offered on fundamental and advanced topics in sensors, imaging, data fusion, infrared cameras, and optical technologies.


photo of Bradford TousleyBradford Tousley, director of the Tactical Technology Office at DARPA (right), and Patrick Carrick, director of the US Homeland Security Advanced Research Project Agency (HSARPA) spoke to an audience of more than 800 at the DCS plenary session, detailing progress in programs enabled by photonics that modernize defense and security capabilities.

Tousley said the US’ most pressing defense-related challenge in the field of sensing was creating greater resilience in outer space. The US needs to promote airport-like efficiency for space ventures, he said. “Airplanes get from point A to point B with minimum delay, no matter the weather or any reason.”

Sensing technologies now provide excellent awareness of where airplanes are on Earth, for the most part, he said. However, “We do not understand this in space.” Research in sensing technologies will return the biggest benefit in the future by getting more satellites into space, he said.

photo of Patrick CarrickCarrick (right) explained the inner workings of HSARPA and its annual budget of about $300 million in his talk. Cybersecurity efforts are “exponentially growing,” Carrick said, while HSARPA’s explosives division works mainly in aviation security.

Among HSARPA’s many projects are the operation and tracking of unmanned vehicles and a wide array of counter-terrorism and disaster-preparation activities. A key project is the development of bio-surveillance systems.

Carrick said HSARPA’s goal for aviation security is to screen people at airports “at the pace of light, from the moment they step off the curb to when they get on the plane.”

He added, “We want to make sure everybody is adequately screened, and you will never know you have been screened.” However, he admitted, “A lot of new technology needs to be developed for that.”


More than 60 new products were announced by some of the 360 companies at the DCS Expo, and demonstrations of new applications were presented by companies including FLIR, DRS Technologies, and IJK Controls, which demonstrated its stabilized gimbal.

IJK representative Gunnar Ristroph said the gimbal, with its unlimited travel in every axis, was used in movie cameras for pointing and tracking immediately after its introduction in 2015. Those movies included sequels to “Independence Day,” “Star Wars,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” as well as recent Academy Award winner, “The Revenant.”

Other new products were:

  • InfraTec’s long-range thermal camera systems with powerful zoom lenses
  • Xenics’ shortwave infrared line-scan arrays with applications in remote sensing from space, medical diagnostics and monitoring, and industry
  • Princeton Infrared Technologies’ indium gallium arsenide sensor system for spectroscopy and machine vision in the shortwave infrared
  • High-definition-format midwave detector from Sofradir for imaging equipment in airborne, naval, and ground vehicles to achieve longer range, wider field of view and better resolution.

Topics in the technical program included display technologies, quantum cascade lasers (QCLs), ocean sensing, miniaturized robots and satellites, and ultrafast bandgap photonics, which was the subject of a new conference chaired by SPIE members Michael Rafailov of the University of Alberta (Canada) and Eric Mazur of Harvard University (USA).

Other presenters at the conference included Paul Corkum of University of Ottawa (Canada) discussing high-harmonic generation in atoms, molecules, and wide-bandgap semiconductors; Henry C. Kapteyn (USA) who gave a talk on ultrafast laser pulses; and Koichiro Tanaka of Kyoto University (Japan) who described nonlinear optical phenomena in semiconductors induced by strong terahertz waves.

At one of several sessions marking the 40th anniversary of the fiber optic gyro (FOG), SPIE Fellow Eric Udd, president of Columbia Gorge Research (USA), gave a talk on the early history of the technology. Udd, who helped pioneer fiber-optic smart structures for health monitoring and other sensors like the ring laser gyro, noted that FOG has found application areas such as navigation systems of guided missiles, remotely operated and autonomous underwater vehicles, and surveying.

Benjamin L Miller of the University of Rochester Medical Center (USA) gave a talk at a session on integrated photonics sensing of chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear, and explosives (CBRNE) threats on a new, label-free optical biosensor that can efficiently distinguish new and unknown strains of influenza as a virus mutates in animals during any particular outbreak.

SPIE Fellow Manijeh Razeghi, director of the Center for Quantum Devices at Northwestern University (USA), reported on improvements to THz sources operating at room temperature. Her group has developed a THz source which makes use of the intracavity difference-frequency generation of the nonlinear effects in mid-infrared QCLs. Her team has achieved a THz peak power of 1.9 mW at 3.51 THz, a continuous-wave THz power of up to 14 µW, and continuous frequency tuning capabilities.

Other technical talk highlights:

  • SPIE member John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign detailed work in developing electronics that have physical characteristics of human skin: they are thin, light, stretchable, and water-proof.
  • SPIE Fellow and Board member Anna Mignani of the Istituto- di Fisica Applicata “Nello Carrara” showed results of using spectroscopy in analyzing food content to virtually “taste” and assess for quality at point of purchase. The technique can also monitor browning of meat or fermentation of wine or beer, verify milk quality, and calculate the acidity and fatty-acid profile of olive oil.
  • Lori Lepak of Phoebus Optoelectronics (USA) reported on research done with City College of New York on improving biosensor performance and practicality, allowing for rapid, on-site detection of toxins and pathogens, monitoring food safety, making medical diagnoses, and detecting explosives.
  • Simon Blackmore of the National Centre for Precision Farming at Harper Adams University (UK) reviewed advances in robotic agriculture and precision farming, sharing a vision of farming that incorporates lightweight robotic “farmers” capable of planting seeds in fields even at full moisture capacity, without compacting and damaging the soil.
  • Sabah Jassim of the University of Buckingham (UK) presented a new tool designed to assist biologists in Alzheimer’s research. It uses an automated system to count and classify blood vessels in the hippocampus, the region of the brain primarily responsible for memories and navigation, and one of the first regions to become damaged during the onset of the condition.

Symposium chairs were SPIE member David Logan of BAE Systems and Ming Wu of University of California, Berkeley.


In addition to the proceedings from the 56 conferences that are published in the SPIE Digital Library, Optical Engineering will publish six special sections on topics presented at DCS.

Editors of the special sections have specifically invited DCS presenters to submit their research findings on quantum and optical computing, optical computational imaging, wearable vision systems, long-range imaging and other topics typically covered at DCS.

Visit spie.org/OE for manuscript due dates and other requirements.

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