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DARPA gives Raytheon $13.4 million to build thermal cameras for smartphones

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The US government awarded Raytheon a $13.4 million contract to miniaturize thermal cameras for the PDAs and smartphones of soldiers in the field.

Infrared Droid 2
Infrared Droid 2

Infrared vision is indubitably awesome, but pocket thermal cameras aren't cheap — even a device with a tiny field of view and incredibly low resolution (think 160 x 120) can cost thousands of dollars. The US military wants every soldier to have a thermal camera, though, and now it's got an idea how to get there, giving Raytheon $13.4 million to emulate the consumer cellphone industry and miniaturize IR imagers to fit in PDAs and smartphones. Mind you, these still won't be the 8-megapixel cameraphones you're used to, as DARPA's shooting for just 640 x 480 resolution to start. They'll also have a 40-degree field of view, draw less than 500mW and cost under $500 each, not much more than you'd pay for an unsubsidized smartphone these days. There's no guarantee that Raytheon will succeed, of course, but if so, we're liking the result: a phone that not only translates foreign languages on the fly, but also lets you see in the dark.

Update: If you're wondering why Raytheon got this particular contract, commenter esoterica might have an idea: in 1996, Raytheon produced NightDriver, an infrared camera and HUD which was a factory option for some automobiles. See a promo video for the technology below.