New "imaging machines" distinguish between grass and camouflage

Camouflage Dec 14, 2006

The UK Army is testing technology developed by an Edinburgh scientist which allows soldiers to distinguish the world's best camouflage from real foliage and spot buried landmines. The video camera-style machines created by Dr Andy Harvey, a senior lecturer in electrical engineering at Heriot-Watt University, can identify 30 times more colours than it is possible to detect with the human eye.

This technology is the only one of its kind in the world. It can spot subtle changes the eye can't. - Dr Andy Harvey

The military believes the invention may help them spot hidden enemy outposts, tell enemy soldiers from allies and spot small disturbances in the grass where landmines have been buried. Medics are also keen to test the "image replicating imaging spectrometer" as a possible tool for saving patients' sight. NHS Lothian is set to use it for research and it could later be used on patients at the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion. It is possible the technology could eventually be used to detect forms of cancer that are currently hard to pick up. The invention is the first moving camera to allow such sophisticated colour differentiation. Currently only still photography cameras that take at least a minute to produce a picture can match its performance. The Ministry of Defence is testing one of Dr Harvey's imaging machines, which soldiers carry around like a video camera. Dr Andy Harvey believes his imaging technology could help save patients' sight and detect certain types of cancer. Dr Andy Harvey believes his imaging technology could help save patients' sight and detect certain types of cancer. Dr Harvey said: "This technology is the only one of its kind that exists. It can spot subtle changes in colour that the eye cannot. "For example, it could spot the difference between camouflage and green foliage. It could also distinguish between allied camouflage and enemy camouflage when they are similar. "If someone places a mine it puts stress on the grass. The stress causes the grass to appear less healthy and this can be picked up by the imaging equipment when it could not be by the human eye." The technology has been developed at Heriot-Watt University over the past four years and has received up to £800,000 in funding from sources including the Department for Trade and Industry and QinetiQ, the defence and security specialist which was once part of the MoD. NHS Lothian is looking at how the technology can be used to improve health care. It is set to be used to study why premature babies are likely to suffer from eye problems such as detached retina. The Eye Pavilion may be able to use it to spot subtle changes in the colour of the back of the eye which can give early signs of problems. Dr Harvey said: "It can be used to record images at the back of the eye. Blood being pumped around the back of the eye has oxygen in it. "As the oxygen metabolises the blood changes colour. That's terribly important when it comes to identifying eye disease.

"In a sick eye you can tell the oxygen has not metabolised through the colour of the blood. That is very useful as it will help detect glaucoma and eye diseases related to diabetes."

Dr Harvey believes his invention could also prove vital in the fight against a type of cancer which is very hard to diagnose. He said:

"One thing I am particularly interested in is the early detection of cancer of the oesophagus. "It is an area that is very difficult to get access to. I hope it would be possible to put one of these little cameras on the end of an endoscope and detect cancer either through blood profusion or by using special dyes." Dr Bal

Dhillon, clinical lead for the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion, said it was too early to know yet what direct benefits it might bring to patients. He said: "We are always interested in any new technology that becomes available, especially if it offers significant benefits to healthcare.

"However, this new piece of equipment is currently only a research tool and is yet to undergo clinical trials."