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Mon, May 12, 2003

New Technology Could Impact Homeland Security, Aviation Safety

Superman Would Be Proud

It's sorta like Superman's X-Ray vision, a new technology that Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte (NC) is developing for potential applications in homeland security and aviation safety. It's calledd PMMW - Passive Millimeter-Wave imaging.

"The passive millimeter-wave imager is a camera that can detect objects through clothing, dense fog, walls and other visibly opaque materials using millimeter-wave radiation. One advantage is its ability to see through severe weather conditions," said Dr. Alan Lettington, professor emeritus at the University of Reading and a world-renowned scientist in the field of PMMW imaging.

Could This Turn IMC Into Virtual Daytime VMC?

This project, funded by the NASA Glenn Research Center, has allowed the passive millimeter-wave (PMMW) imager to be built and delivered to JCSU for further evaluation and research. It may open the door to new ways of handling airport security, aircraft landing, space shuttle diagnostics and battlefield combat. Currently, most air traffic control systems and surveillance cameras use infrared waves, which are significantly weakened in poor weather.

Another advantage to the PMMW imager is that objects are not subject to external radiation in order to obtain an image. "This technology makes it possible to detect objects without being detected - that's why it's called passive," said Lettington.

Four years ago, Dr. Magdy Attia, project director and JCSU department chair of computer science and engineering, collaborated with Lettington and the NASA Glenn Research Center to study and develop the PMMW imager. The camera was recently delivered to JCSU from England as a model for further research in the US.

"Having this comprehensive engineering system at Johnson C. Smith provides an excellent training ground for our students to gain expertise in mm-wave technology as well as opens research opportunities for faculty and other agencies," said Attia. Students will begin research projects in the Fall.

Where's This Been All Our Lives?

MM-wave research has been an underdeveloped area until recently. During the past decade, attention has been increased to utilize the technology to build surveillance cameras for a wide spectrum of applications. Since September 11, potential applications and interest in the development of PMMW imaging has significantly increased. NASA, the US Department of Defense, and other national organizations are looking at ways to reproduce the imager for further research.

"Our primary interest in this technology is aviation safety. If aircraft control towers or airplanes can be equipped with mm-wave cameras, then even in adverse weather conditions, airports can remain open with the least loss of productivity," said Dr. Isaiah M. Blankson, senior scientist and technologist at NASA Glenn Research Center. "NASA came to Johnson C. Smith because there was real expertise in this area."

You Won't See This In Stores Anytime Soon

The PMMW imagers are expensive due to the high cost of the millimeter-wave receivers needed to build them. A wide spectrum of knowledge is needed in order to do research in this field such as electromagnetic waves, microwave and millimeter-wave antennas and devices, and super-resolution algorithms.

"Johnson C. Smith University has diligently worked to integrate technology into all aspects of our curriculum. With this project, we hope that others will not only recognize our commitment to technology, but also appreciate our focus on research," said Dr. Dorothy Cowser Yancy, JCSU president.

FMI: www.jcsu.edu

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