Navy subs will test omnidirectional periscopes

Navy subs will test omnidirectional periscopes

System extends digital technology for panoramas that will reveal ships 10 km away


The Navy is developing an omnidirectional viewing system to give submarine crews a 360-degree view of their surroundings.

'The idea is to improve your situational awareness,' said Thomas McKenna, program officer in the Office of Naval Research. 'A 360-degree visualization is a pretty straightforward way to accomplish that.'

The program grew up partly in response to last year's terrorist bombing of the USS Cole destroyer and the February collision of the USS Greenville submarine with a Japanese ship.

The whole pie

Under a $978,110, 16-month contract, Remote Reality Corp. of Westborough, Mass., is adapting its omnidirectional photographic technology to a periscope camera. The goal is to be able to spot ships at sea at a distance of 10 kilometers.

'That's a significant goal for a system that is imaging in all directions,' McKenna said.
Remote Reality is a commercial spin-off of a five-year research program funded by the Office of Naval Research at Columbia University's Computer Vision Laboratory.

After the October attack on the USS Cole in a Yemeni harbor, a periscope program was established at the Naval Underwater Warfare Center in Newport, R.I.

When the Greenville collided with the Ehime Maru in February, killing nine aboard the fishing vessel, 'that led to an acceleration of the program,' McKenna said.

The Remote Reality technology, used with both still and video digital cameras, has a pair of parabolic lenses. One captures a doughnut-shaped, 360-degree image. The other flattens it for reading by a digital sensor as a panoramic strip.

'We are not in the camera business,' senior vice president Hapet Berberian said. 'Our focus is on designing and developing optics and software to extend an existing system.'

For the Navy project, each periscope will have two of the omnidirectional cameras'for daytime and nighttime viewing'in addition to its standard optical equipment. A user on a submarine could navigate the computer display panoramically. If something called for closer examination, the user could train the periscope's optics on it.

The technical challenge is in obtaining sufficiently high digital resolution, said Jeb Hurley, Remote Reality's chief executive officer.

One step beyond digital

A periscope system is much more sophisticated than a digital camera, he said. 'We're really stretching the limits of digital performance.'

Meanwhile, the Navy will have to squeeze the new system into a periscope, which already carries Global Positioning System receivers and other communications and sensing equipment.

'It's packed with optics and cables and electronics,' McKenna said.

'The trick is putting it into that space without creating electromagnetic interference,' McKenna added.

Another Navy program, called Photonic Mast, is developing a next-generation submarine imaging system for new Virginia-class subs.

If the omnidirectional imaging system is a success, it could be included in the Photonic Mast program, McKenna said.

'There are very few of them being built,' he said of the new sub class. 'If you're going to have an impact on the fleet, you have to be able to retrofit.'

The prototype will be installed first on a surface ship for testing, he said.


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