The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking engineered optical materials to develop smaller, more capable, and lighter devices for advanced imaging applications, it announced on 15 August.
The materials be unconstrained by 'laws' of classical optic design that have long been followed by imaging system developers. One such rule is that imaging systems must be built by linearly arranged, complex and precisely manufactured optical elements. This results in high-performance imaging devices becoming large and heavy with multiple optical elements.
DARPA is seeking material for its Extreme Optics and Imaging programme, which aims to break away from the paradigm and introduce new engineered optical materials (EnMats) and associated design tools. These tools will help develop new optical systems with reduced weight and size, new functionalities and performance improvements.
Extreme is focused on two-dimensional meta-surfaces and 3D volumetric optics and holograms that manipulate light in ways beyond the conventional reflection and refraction rules. It will address multi-scale modelling to enable EnMat design and optimisation across various size scales.
The programme aims to develop and demonstrate an optical system with engineered surfaces, in which light propagation control can be controlled irrespective of a specific geometric shape. It also aims to demonstrate a sugar cube-sized or larger volumetric optical element that can simultaneously perform multiple functions in the infrared and visual bands, such as polarisation measurements, spectrum analysis and imaging.
If successful, the Extreme programme could lead to the development of lighter and smaller optics and imagers for defence applications, enabling miniaturisation of imaging systems for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The devices could also improve imaging systems such as IR search and track systems, hyperspectral imagers and night vision goggles.