Unmanned systems such as UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), UGVs (unmanned ground vehicles) and USVs (unmanned surface vessels) use imaging systems for a variety of purposes.
Visible camera systems are used for applications such as aerial photography, detect-and-avoid, and target detection and tracking. Thermal imaging systems, which may be Short Wavelength Infrared (SWIR), Medium Wavelength Infrared (MWIR), or Long Wavelength Infrared (LWIR), are commonly used for surveillance, search and rescue (SAR) and industrial inspection.
These imaging systems integrate a wide range of optical components and assemblies, which need to be engineered to a high standard in order to maximize imaging performance. Optical elements will also typically need to be designed to minimize SWaP (size, weight and power) footprints as much as possible.
Lenses for drones and unmanned systems may be manufactured with a variety of substrates in a range of different shapes. Long focal lengths are required for UAV applications that capture imagery at great distances. Drone camera lenses with continuous zoom can provide size and weight savings compared to using multiple lenses for each field of view.
Optical windows are designed to maximise transmission for a specific range of wavelengths, such as ultraviolet, visible or infrared. They may be manufactured from different materials with different refractive indices according to the required application.
Optical domes are used as protective structures for imaging assemblies, and balance transmission with durability as required. They are made from materials such as UV fused silica, sapphire and plastics, and can be coated to increase robustness and transmission or to reduce reflection.
Optical filters are designed to transmit only selected wavelengths whilst blocking everything that is not required. They may be used to reduce reflection, or for applications such as precision agriculture where specific reflected wavelengths can be used to provide information about plant health and hydration.