DARPA: What are the extreme challenges facing optics and imaging?

DARPA wants to know what would be the extreme challenges in building advanced optical imagining systems

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If you were designing state-of-the-art optical or imaging systems from a clean slate, how would you such technologies?

That seems to be the main question behind a Request For Information issued recently by the scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Defense Sciences Office.

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DARPA said its s requesting industry feedback on what it called the extreme challenge problems in optics and imaging.

“For the purposes of this RFI, extreme challenges encompass systems, components, devices, processing schemes, or design/optimization tools that drastically outperform the current state of the art, and expand the limits of what is typically deemed possible using conventional design methodologies. Responses should completely alter the current design paradigm of a given extreme challenge, and pave the way for fundamentally unique solutions; incremental, evolutionary advances are not of interest.”

From DARPA: “As an illustrative example, current reflective telescopes have fields of view (FOV) in the range of a few degrees. What advances (e.g., new materials that change the law of reflection, new optical surface shapes, new telescope architectures, advanced processing techniques, metrology, etc.) are needed to open this FOV up to 2π steradians without increasing the size and weight of the system? What advances are needed if the system size and weight are decreased?”

Perhaps the biggest part of the RFI looks to define exactly what some of the biggest challenges are in developing revolutionary optical systems. The problems may focus on simplistic systems (e.g., a singlet lens) or may address complete systems in order to achieve (or greatly improve on) a desired application, DARPA stated.

“The application space is completely open and may include, but is not limited to: traditional imaging modalities with extreme performance metrics, multi-functional and adaptive systems, task/feature-specific systems, etc. Responses should focus on problems that cannot be readily solved given evolutionary or incremental improvements to traditional optical and imaging devices/systems along one or more of the system elements. Any performance levels described in suggested extreme challenge problems do not need to be readily realizable, and at this stage, in fact, probably cannot be,” DARPA stated.

Beyond defining the challenges in designing such advanced imaging systems DARPA is looking for changes in the way such systems sense, control and maniputlate light waves. It is also looking for new ways to fabricate these new systems.

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