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Cathing Polluters (Infra)Red-Handed

Photonics Spectra
Apr 2000
A laser illuminator helps cameras catch oil spills and leaks -- but it also can simplify offshore rescues and capture license plate numbers in the dark.

John Lester Miller and Doug Little, Flir Systems Inc., Portland, Ore.

Day or night and in all types of weather, airborne imaging systems help save lives, catch criminals and bring breaking news to the world. Handheld industrial thermal imaging cameras enhance safety, speed up processes and save money through predictive maintenance programs. Now, near-IR laser technology joins with imaging to stop polluters on the high seas and to improve CCD camera performance in other low-light applications.

While catastrophic accidents that occur with large ships like the Exxon Valdez, Sea Empress and New Carissa capture media attention worldwide, smaller accidents may go unnoticed. Even the best-kept ships may develop unobserved oil leaks, and unscrupulous captains may clean oil tanks in open seas.

Detecting these small leaks is difficult, and proving their source is even more difficult. No one photonics technology can ensure prosecution for this type of environmental damage, but a new device that combines lasers with cameras has simplified the process. In addition, the technology is equally applicable to search-and-rescue and nonmaritime applications.

The US Air Force Directed Energy Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., and Flir Systems Inc. of Portland, Ore., have combined technologies to create the Covert Adjustable Laser Illuminator, an imaging device that will help environmental law enforcement, search-and-rescue efforts, and other military and civilian imaging applications.

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