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  • 3 Questions Interview

Photonics Spectra
Apr 2013
Director of R&D at ITT Exelis Geospatial Systems in Rochester, N.Y., Dr. Robert D. Fiete has been elected a 2013 SPIE Fellow. He created the imaging chain model for Ikonos, the first commercial high-resolution imaging satellite. He also helped the FBI and the US Department of Justice prosecute and convict individuals exploiting children in digital images.

Q: What are you working on?

A: I am still actively involved with modeling the imaging chain for new camera designs that come along. For example, a new imaging system design from a customer may have a small mismatch in their optical prescription that will be expensive to change. This is why we are using the imaging chain model to determine the impact to the image quality, if a customer wants the camera assembled without a change. Many new camera designs use lighter-weight materials, which results in a camera that can distort easier. We are modeling those aspects to understand the effect on the image quality.

As director of research and development for Exelis Geospatial Systems, I have visibility into other great technologies being developed. Some of the advancements being developed by Exelis Geospatial Systems for optical systems include mirrors, mounts and metering structures for ground-, sea-, air- and space-based platforms and systems. Recently, the team announced completion of work on an optical fabrication contract for the University of Rochester’s Lab for Laser Energetics.

Q: What are the implications of the work for the industry or society?

A: The key advantage is saving time and money while pushing the technology to new limits. For example, the beautiful high-resolution satellite pictures seen on Google Maps are the result of a very complex camera design that required the consideration of many design options. By modeling the imaging chain, we were able to determine the best design without the expense and additional time required to buy hardware and test the various designs. We have also used the imaging chain to help identify photofakery by finding characteristics in images that cannot occur if they were imaged through a real imaging chain.

The work we are doing for the University of Rochester, under an initiative sponsored by the US Department of Energy, directly supports studies using lasers to create alternate sources of energy such as fusion energy. Some experiments involve the use of distributed phase plates, provided by Exelis, to shape the laser beam. One pound of fusion fuel can produce the same energy as 5000 tons of coal and does not create long-lasting radioactive waste, greenhouse gases or other harmful pollutants.

We are also contributing to space exploration. Exelis specializes in creating large off-axis aspheric mirrors and optics – 16 inches or larger – for orbiting telescopes and ground-based telescopes to include the WorldView and the GeoEye Earth imaging satellites.

Q: What’s next for that work?

A: Modeling the imaging chain of imaging systems is a never-ending task because innovation never ends. Very clever scientists and engineers are always finding new and better ways to capture electromagnetic radiation and convert it into meaningful information. We continue to develop, test and validate our mathematical models for these new imaging systems. For example, we are looking at ways to integrate different imaging modalities into a single sensor which requires new mathematical models for the sensors.

We continue to advance optical technologies and need to evolve our imaging chain models to incorporate these advancements. We are using over 50 years of optical systems technology to drive innovation and deliver affordable custom solutions in imaging, high-energy and high-strength-windows optics.

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