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From Crop Science to Space Exploration, Optical Sensing on the Rise

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Technologies that were once recognized only by niche professionals and the military have reached a price point that has the commercial sector excited.


From smartphones, smart homes and autonomous vehicles to crop science, food inspection and space observations, optical sensors are finding increasing use in the commercial sector. Image sensing evolved from the military arena to commercial applications such as remote sensing, advanced machine vision, the medical/biotechnology world, and even into artwork and antiquities. Once size, weight and cost were driven down, there was an immediate upturn in the market; and this growth has been exponential. “There aren’t too many takers for a $20 million hyperspectral sensor, which does exist, but at less than five percent of that with performance attributes nearly equal, you start seeing interest from a range of commercial uses,” said Christopher Van Veen of hyperspectral imaging specialists Headwall Photonics in Bolton, Mass. “The multimillion-dollar hyperspectral instruments aboard defense aircraft and satellites represented a springboard for companies like Headwall to take the optical/mechanical technologies and refine them for commercial pursuits while driving cost out.” At thermal imaging specialists Flir Systems Inc., based in Wilsonville, Ore., an increasing awareness of the technology has led to a vast number of new users in commercial industries, including for home repairs, heating and ventilation contractors, plumbers, and electricians, to name a few. “While the value of the technology was known by many professional users and those with military experience, lack of awareness, the acquisition cost, or both, prevented the vast majority of users from using it,” said Bill Terre, general manager and vice president of the OEM and Emerging segment at Flir. In 2014, uncooled thermal imaging cameras came down from over $1,000 to $399 and many found the new value proposition made sense. Today prices continue to drop, with the latest models priced at less than $200. For many professionals, the more modest capital expenditure was what they needed to give it a go.

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Published: February 2017
multispectral imaging
Multispectral imaging is a technique that involves capturing and analyzing images at multiple discrete spectral bands within the electromagnetic spectrum. Unlike hyperspectral imaging, which acquires data across a continuous range of wavelengths, multispectral imaging is characterized by capturing information at several specific, predefined bands. This allows for the extraction of spectral signatures and information from different parts of the spectrum. Key aspects of multispectral imaging...
remote sensing
Remote sensing is a method of data collection and observation where information about objects, areas, or phenomena on Earth's surface is gathered from a distance, typically using sensors onboard satellites, aircraft, drones, or other platforms. This technique enables the monitoring and analysis of Earth's surface and atmosphere without direct physical contact. Remote sensing systems capture electromagnetic radiation (such as visible light, infrared, microwave, or radio waves) reflected or...
Lidar, short for light detection and ranging, is a remote sensing technology that uses laser light to measure distances and generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape and characteristics of objects and surfaces. Lidar systems typically consist of a laser scanner, a GPS receiver, and an inertial measurement unit (IMU), all integrated into a single system. Here is how lidar works: Laser emission: A laser emits laser pulses, often in the form of rapid and repetitive laser...
Sensors & Detectorsoptical sensingoptical sensorsFlirhyperspectral sensormultispectral imagingremote sensingExcelitasMarie FreebodyUAVslidarHeadwallLockheed Martinwide-field optical mechanical assemblyLabsphereFeatures

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