Headwall Photonics Blog

Hyperspectral Imaging Technology a New Frontier for KAUST in Saudi Arabia

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Thu, Oct 08, 2015

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is a public research institution in Saudi Arabia. By any measure it is a very young university, founded in 2009. But in that short span of time it has rapidly grown to accumulate an astounding number of research and citation records.

Being a science and technology university, KAUST focuses on traditional subjects such as math, electrical engineering, and computer science. KAUST is already well versed in spectroscopy, having a burgeoning lab full of instruments that can peer into the chemical underpinnings of minerals, plants, and crops. The lab is outfitted with spectroscopy, chromatography, and mass spectometry instruments tasked with learning more about trace metals analysis, wet chemistry, and surface analysis.

But one area of study is on pace to become its most popular: Earth and Environmental Sciences. Here, students and faculty pore over ways to use new technology in learning more about precision agriculture, water resources, and atmospheric conditions. This takes spectroscopy out of the lab and into the air, specifically using drones and UAVs.


Spectroscopy takes several different forms, but multispectral and hyperspectral are of primary interest within the scientific research community. The primary difference between the two is that hyperspectral imaging technology provides complete spectral information for every pixel in the scene...literally hundreds of bands. Comparatively, multispectral will only detect a handful of bands. In other words, it can mean the difference between discovering an invasive disease in a crop field or vineyard and missing it altogether. The Headwall sensors have a wide field of view (FOV) coupled with aberration-corrected optics, meaning that image data is as crisp and precise along the edges of the FOV as it is directly underneath the flight path. More data is collected for each mission, making the data-collection project more efficient. With battery life being key, efficiency matters.  Armed with spectral libraries that define the chemical composition of everything the sensor ‘sees,’ scientists have the ability to look well beyond what is actually ‘visible.’ 

Matthew McCabe, a professor at KAUST, recognizes the value of real-time environmental analysis in the work his Hydrology and Land Observation (HALO) Group does. “We are interested in exploring hyperspectral sensing to better understand plant health and function, particularly as relates to agricultural settings,” said McCabe. “The capacity to retrieve information on plant health is of interest not just for the obvious and important monitoring of crop state, but also in better constraining coupled water-energy-carbon models of vegetation systems.” According to McCabe, these models are generally poorly constrained so a system that enables for investigating plant health and condition in near real-time is of much interest. 

Already familiar with less precise multispectral instruments, McCabe is now investing in airborne hyperspectral sensors that see more and can deliver vast amounts of spectral data. “While we already employ multispectral sensors covering bands known to inform upon plant systems, it is the capacity to further expand our knowledge of plant spectral response that we are most interested in,” said McCabe. “Determining new spectral relationships in plant behavior and response is an area of research that hyperspectral imaging can really drive.”


The field of crop science is a key deployment for hyperspectral imaging. Here, McCabe chose Headwall’s Nano-Hyperspec sensor that covers the core Visible/Near-Infrared (VNIR) range from 400nm to 1000nm. Most anything that a crop scientist wants to ‘see’ will be found in that VNIR range. “We wanted a very precise spectral imager that operated in this important VNIR range,” said McCabe. “We needed to ‘see’ spectral information for every pixel within the field of view, and we knew that Headwall’s Nano-Hyperspec had very precise edge-to-edge imaging performance that would optimize the flight efficiency of our UAV.

With the newly acquired Nano-Hyperspec mounted aboard a KAUST-engineered quadcopter, McCabe and his team will set off to learn about plant-specific spectral-traits that provide direct insight into health and productivity functions. “This is one of our research goals,” said McCabe. “Hyperspectral sensing and analysis allows us to explore this exciting area of research in ways that multispectral cannot.”

Choosing a sensor and deploying it properly on a UAV is a challenge, especially since the technology is still relatively young. “We needed a sensor package that matched our UAV,” said McCabe. That meant it had to be lightweight and small, and it had to have integrated data storage for the many gigabytes of spectral data pouring into the sensor while aloft. The Headwall solution added a GPS/IMU and full software control for an overall package that put McCabe in the air far sooner than he’d otherwise expect. “Partnering with Headwall gave us months of headway in terms of getting in the air and collecting great data,” said McCabe.

And why Headwall? “We knew the company was a strong and well respected brand in the spectral sensing domain, with a long history of product excellence,” said McCabe. “We had researched a number of competing solutions, but Headwall turned out to be the most professional and competent among them.” McCabe also noted that numerous colleagues and scientists were currently using Headwall hyperspectral instruments with great success.

Moving forward, what are some of the exciting plans in the area of environmental analysis using Headwall’s hyperspectral system? “Our initial research will be focused on the indirect retrieval of plant pigments such as chlorophyll and carotenoids,” said McCabe. This spectral data will provide information on water use and stress condition of agricultural systems. “Ultimately, we are interested in better understanding plant water use through transpiration, but there are also opportunities for better constraining crop-yield through routine spatial sampling that is available when coupled to a UAV,” noted McCabe. “Hyperspectral sensing allows for a number of innovative ways to explore these ideas. But there are also clear opportunities beyond crop science. Indeed, we see applications across many of the multi-disciplinary research areas we are engaged in.” Interestingly but not surprisingly, McCabe is thinking well beyond UAVs: “We also have active projects in satellite validation and expect to engage with collaborators on both small and larger scale crop stress monitoring and even disease mapping using sensors mounted aboard L.E.O. commercial satellites.”

Of course, Headwall will be there when the time comes.

Click to edit your new post...

Tags: Remote Sensing, UAS

We're Giving Drones a Good Name

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Wed, Oct 07, 2015

Drones seem to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. The media reminds us that they're nothing but nuisances: peeking at people, crashing into stadiums, hovering over the White House, and causing airliners to take evasive maneuvers. The FAA in this country is taking an active stance on the safe operation of drones, and the topic is being explored elsewhere around the globe. What everyone recognizes is that it's a world full of both promise and uncertainty. Indeed, the automobile was born under the same set of circumstances!

Having just returned from a week-long conference in Reno, Nevada, my post today is meant to emphasize the good work drones can do. The biggest among them is precision agriculture, where a drone outfitted with the right instrumentation can hover over orchards and vineyards and spot telltale signs of diseases that aren't readily seen from the ground. Monitoring irrigation levels and fertilizer effectiveness are two other key applications, as are climatology, pipeline monitoring, and geology.

Two makers of UAVs present at the conference are Headwall customers. PrecisionHawk builds a fixed-wing system while ServiceDrones offers a multi-rotor craft. There are reasons for using either. The amount of room you have to take off and land is one consideration; the overall battery life (flight duration) is another; and payload capacity is a third. The key task is to match everything to the mission, which is why integration is so important.

All told, the packaged technology of drones and sensors allows researchers to 'see' the invisible and learn more about the environment. Primarily this is territory largely inaccessible by any other ground-based means, which puts the risk to humans (and airliners) at the lower end of the scale. The use of drones has exploded for two primary reasons. Chief among them is affordability, which positions them much more favorably compared with manned fixed-wing aircraft. Second is ease of use. Drones are now more 'mainstream' than ever, and their ability to carry reasonable instrumentation payloads allows them to do this kind of scientific 'remote sensing.'

Instruments such as hyperspectral sensors are getting smaller, lighter, and more affordable. With them, scientists can now unlock hidden secrets and spot trends by analyzing very detailed, data-rich images.  We are helping to create a 'new set of eyes' for the scientific community. The drones themselves become a vital 'delivery system,' and the pairing of these technologies is giving birth to the kind of conference such as the ASPRS Mapping event in Reno. It was a combination of test flying and presentations, with the flying happening in gorgeous Palomino Valley located about 35 miles north of Reno.

Through it all, safety was paramount during the flying demonstrations. FAA inspectors were with us every step of the way to make sure that all the programmed flight plans were adhered to. Each drone had 'N' registration numbers, as a regular aircraft would. This is serious business with huge upside potential for geologists, crop scientists, the petroleum industry, and for environmentalists. It pays to understand the regulations and work within them, because this whole business is a 'new frontier' for everyone. And while the term 'Drone' conjures up a rather negative image, the more proper description is, "Unmanned Airborne System," or 'UAS' for short. These truly are 'systems' because they pair a flying machine (either fixed-wing or multi-rotor) with instruments they carry.

And what kind of instruments? For precision agriculture, a hyperspectral sensor covering the Visible and Near-Infrared (VNIR) range of 400-1000nm will spot disease conditions on tree canopies. With entire economies depending on crops (hello, Florida citrus!), the ability to spot tree-borne diseases and other plant-stress situations is massively beneficial. First, the instruments are precise and can spot the 'invisible.' Second, the drones allow for the rapid and complete coverage of remote areas that might take days or weeks to map. And perhaps most telling, some disease conditions will only be visible from the top down rather than from the bottom up. An inspector on a ladder under a tree will likely miss something that the drone spots, and this can mean the difference between a bountiful harvest and a financial catastrophe. Any high-value crop (think citrus, wine grapes, pistachios, coffee beans, walnuts, etc.) needs this kind of imaging oversight. Our Nano-Hyperspec is extremely popular for this kind of work.

When it comes to airborne work, one of the most desired attributes of a hyperspectral sensor is a wide field of view. Simply put, the sensor needs to deliver crisp hyperspectral data at the edges of its field of view just as it would directly underneath the flight path. The wider and more sharp the field of view, the more efficient the flight path can be. And when it comes to drones, battery life determines the overall flight duration. So a hyperspectral sensor having an aberration-corrected wide field of view can cover more ground for a given flight envelope. More image data is thus collected for every flight, making the research project very efficient.

In addition to hyperspectral sensors, drones will also need a GPS to tie the incoming spectral data to its exact geographic location. Another frequently asked-for instrument is LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging Sensor), which provides some elevation detail that is paired with the hyperspectral data. Obviously the combination of all these separate instruments makes for a payload that consumes valuable weight and space, and thus out of the realm of possibility for today's new breed of hand-launched UAVs. With that in mind, my company (Headwall Photonics, Inc.) takes time to engineer and 'integrate' the sensor so that it is as small and as light as possible. Combining the data storage inside the sensor is one way; direct-attaching the GPS is another. The connecting cables you don't need mean weight you don't have to lift!

Finally, conferences like the ASPRS event in Reno are places where people can learn. Understanding the challenges and potential integration pitfalls is what we at Headwall were there to convey, and our message was very well received. The mistake we all want to avoid is having users blinded by the promise of airborne hyperspectral imaging, dashing off and grabbing any affordable UAV and bolting instruments onto it. For one, such an approach is dangerously naive. Second, the time needed to integrate everything is practically always underestimated. And third, it becomes a very costly endeavor when the price of time is factored in.

At Headwall, although our business is the production of the industry's best hyperspectral imaging sensors, we understand integration issues better than anyone. We're here to help navigate the process and get the scientific research community in the air faster, doing all the good things 'drones' can do.

Tags: hyperspectral, Remote Sensing, Sensors, UAS, VNIR, UAV

Spectral Imaging Solves Mystery of Stolen Books by Suicidal Librarian

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Tue, Jul 21, 2015

Multi-Million Dollar Theft Of National Heritage, Followed By International Intrigue, Suicide, And An Explosion Injuring Dozens...

Not Hollywood But … Headwall’s Hyperspectral Imaging Sensors Provide Forensic Analysis Help Solve the Mystery & Repatriate a Stolen Rare Book!


David Walter Corson is curator of the History of Science collection at the Cornell University Library. Through years of study and procurement, the Cornell collection...35,000 volumes in all...has some esteemed and cherished works written by Sir Isaac Newton, and others, and represents the world’s most extensive university collection on the evolution of scientific thought and research over the few centuries.

One of the books in this vast collection at Cornell was simply known as the ‘Oculus,' written by Christopher Scheiner in 1619. Scheiner was a brilliant geometer, physicist and astronomer, who developed theories of optics which later formed the basis for the development of lenses. Schiener’s book showed that the retina is the seat of vision, and it was a recognized treasure that Cornell was very pleased to have acquired in 1999 from Jonathan Hill, the preeminent New York-based bookseller of rare books and manuscripts. However, it was five years later that the Scheiner Book was reported to have been stolen from the National Library of Sweden, along with around 55 other notable works worth millions.

Unbeknownst to Jonathan Hill or to David Corson, the Library of Sweden theft was a daring one carried out by an employee of the National Library by the name of Anders Burius.  Burius sold the works he stole between the years 1995 and 2004 to German auction house Ketterer Kunst. Burius was subsequently arrested and confessed in 2004. However, while free on bail in Sweden, Mr. Burius attempted suicide by slitting his wrists and then cutting the gas line in his apartment. The explosion finished the deed, flattening the building and injuring scores of neighbors.

The story is widely known throughout Sweden and is recounted in The History Blog, http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/17824.

And, yes, it is also the subject of television mini-series.

Where do Headwall’s hyperspectral imaging sensors fit in?

Initially, Headwall’s spectral imaging analysis was focused on the examination of spectral enhancement techniques on Cornell’s extensive collection of Lincoln documents such as the Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, Lincoln Executive Mansion Letters, and others.


Studying historically significant treasures like Cornell’s Lincoln Collection must be done with great care. The Hippocratic oath for physicians (and, by extension, to curators and conservators) somewhat loosely states, 'First Do No Harm.' Indeed, any sort of spectral imaging must not involve harsh lighting, heat or be otherwise 'invasive.' Assured that it was a safe form of scientific analysis, Cornell teamed with Headwall to carefully image some artifacts, art work, and rare books that can be truly described as priceless treasures of cultural heritage.

Now back to Scheiner’s Oculus book … As Sweden worked with Interpol to track down these stolen treasures, David Corson of Cornell became aware of the book theft and began working with the FBI to determine if the Cornell version of Scheiner’s Oculus was in fact stolen from the National Library of Sweden.

To make a forensic determination, some scientific analysis was necessary which led to Headwall's expertise in hyperspectral imaging and the use of Headwall’s Hyperspec VNIR and SWIR sensors to analyze the book. Headwall’s non-invasive hyperspectral imaging technique yielded a highly resolved spectral and spatial datacube that allowed application engineers to analyze component and constituent material differences in the book such as color change, deterioration, and alterations, as well as the ability to identify disguised text and “under drawings” not visible to the naked eye.


"Your analytic techniques were exactly what we needed," explained Corson. "The totality of the circumstantial evidence that emerged from Headwall's study of The Scheiner Book is, indeed, what ultimately convinced us to 'repatriate' the volume." Through the use of data collected by Headwall’s VNIR and SWIR hyperspectral sensors, Janette Wilson of Headwall’s technical sales team undertook a rigorous PCA approach (Principal Component Analysis) that was able to yield definitive proof that faint, non-visible markings on the book were correlated to the National Library of Sweden’s catalogue system.

"We had independently asked the National Library of Sweden whether there were any unique bookplates or similar identification devices that the library might have used in the past that we should look for," recalled Corson. But there was no apparent evidence of previous bookplates in Cornell's acquired copy, aside from the one Cornell added themselves. But spectral imaging revealed remnants in the corner sections of the front pastedown (a reasonable location for a bookplate) of a previous label. Corson thus had his first bit of evidence: "This finding showed measured dimensions almost identical to those of a bookplate the National Library had told us was once used in their books!"

The challenge before Corson was compounded by the fact that the National Library could not accurately corroborate any of these findings after it was determined that all of its records had been destroyed. "The effect was as if the Library had never even had the titles in its holdings," recalled Corson. In any case, The National Library did send Corson two possible shelf marks for the Scheiner volume, based on their best recollection.  Hyperspectral imaging thus revealed that the sequence of 'marks’ were the same as those provided by the National Library.

In the end, hyperspectral imaging did indeed prove instrumental in uncovering findings previously unknown. “What is significant is that Headwall’s technique and approach can reveal definitive evidence in situations like these,” noted Corson. The technology readily adapts itself for use with paintings, maps, manuscripts, even non-flat artifacts.

Tags: forensics, Cornell University, artifacts, antiquities, Artwork

Hyperspectral Imaging Successfully Screens Cancer Tissue

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Wed, Apr 29, 2015

Healthcare isn’t a new frontier when it comes to imaging, but hyperspectral technology is opening eyes and capturing spectacular, life-changing results.

Over the past several months and culminating in a very successful technical review in late February, a European collaborative project named HELICOID (HypErspectraL Imaging Cancer Detection) used Headwall’s hyperspectral sensors to discriminate between healthy and cancerous brain tissues. The focus on brain cancer is especially meaningful because this tissue—almost more than any other type of cancer—can resemble the normal surrounding tissue. This makes it difficult to isolate under normal imaging techniques.  Indeed, while the HELICOID project focused on brain cancer, hyperspectral imaging will be beneficial for breast and lung cancer as well.

With technical resources out of the Headwall BVBA office near Brussels and with our application partner in Spain, HELICOID, the Belgium-led medical collaborative, worked closely together to develop the technical solution for the spectral imaging sensor.

Early results derived with the Headwall Hyperspec imaging system are impressive as the hyperspectral sensor system can  “potentially accelerate cancer diagnosis and improve proper cancer removal ultimately saving lives” as reported by Lung Cancer News Today.

One of the hallmarks of hyperspectral imaging is its ability to identify objects or disease conditions based on the chemical composition of tissue within the field of view of the sensor.  By working closely with medical collaborators, the sensors were ‘tuned’ to the precise spectral features of interest that scientists are looking to find. By offering a precise definition of the boundaries of the cancer tissue in real-time, hyperspectral imaging can potentially accelerate cancer diagnosis and improve proper cancer removal. Surgeons can thus remove exactly what needs to be removed while leaving healthy tissue untouched.

“Hyperspectral imaging technology holds enormous promise for medical applications and, as the leader in spectral imaging solutions, Headwall will continue to make significant contributions to advancing industry capabilities,” said Chris Van Veen of Headwall’s Marketing group.

Tags: Cancer Detection

Hyperspectral Takes Old Maps Into New Territory

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Thu, Mar 26, 2015

Late in 2014, Headwall sponsored a successful event at London’s Natural History Museum. The purpose of the gathering was to introduce curators and preservationists to the advantages and capabilities of hyperspectral imaging. Professionals in this field understand that the treasures under their control...paintings, documents, and artifacts...need to be preserved using the most advanced techniques available. Preservation largely means having an excellent understanding of the chemical composition of the underlying materials used to create the treasures. And what the eye cannot see, hyperspectral imaging can.

The Bodleian Library (Oxford, UK) has been an acknowledged pioneer with respect to the use of spectral imaging technology. While newer than other imaging techniques, hyperspectral is relatively affordable and provides a wealth of image data that experts can pore through. With this data, the overall body of knowledge is exponentially increased on treasures having enormous historical prestige and significance. The identification of specific materials, inks, pigments, and substrates can help determine when (and perhaps even where) a document or artifact was created. Everything a hyperspectral sensor sees can be categorized with respect to its chemical signature, or ‘fingerprint.’ The color ‘Yellow’ resonates a certain way to the eye, but spectral imaging can discern the chemical composition of a particular ‘Yellow’ and match it to known spectral libraries. The results are clearly beneficial to the Bodleian, which is why the Library has taken great measure to partner with Headwall Photonics to implement systems geared specifically to what they'd like to see and learn.

BodleianTwo prized maps at The Bodleian...the 17th-Century Selden Map of China, and the medieval Gough Map of Britain...recently underwent precise analysis using Headwall’s hyperspectral sensor. The Gough Map in particular represents a mystery to Bodleian experts: when was it created, by whom, and why. By illuminating the map with non-invasive, non-destructive ‘cold’ lighting, the near infrared and shortwave infrared sensors collect a digital map of inks and materials. It even highlights features that were deliberately masked and others that simply faded or flaked away over time.

The Bodleian’s David Howell, an early advocate of spectral/chemical imaging and who helped spearhead Headwall’s Natural History Museum event, has been extremely pleased at the results seen thus far. In an interview with the BBC, Howell said that he was “blown away by the data that’s already coming out.” He noted that the technology first and foremost does not put the treasures at risk. The imaging illumination is non-destructive and the treasures themselves do not need to be removed from their climate-controlled premises.

Howell concluded with a plug for the promise of hyperspectral imaging technology: “Our biggest problem now is there’s just so much data to sort through to fully explore what we’ve uncovered!”

To read the BBC article on this exciting venture, click here.

Tags: hyperspectral imaging, artifacts, antiquities, Artwork, artwork preservation

Headwall Successfully Re-Certifies to ISO 9001

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Tue, Feb 17, 2015

Manufacturing companies of any size must demonstrate to their customers that they are quality-driven organizations. This holds for products, processes, and procedures. The global economy demands this. Since its inception, Headwall recognized that ISO certification would be a core competitive differentiator. The Company set out to be judged against the rigorous ISO9001 standard and was rewarded with certification in 2008. Indeed, Headwall was one of the smallest manufacturing companies to be so certified.

Headwall ISO certificateEvery three years Headwall must undergo a recertification audit, and each time we have successfully demonstrated our adherence to the ISO standard. Our latest such audit with nqa-usa came this month, and we are very pleased and proud to say that we continue to be an ISO9001 organization. On the global stage, and with customers among the largest and best known, Headwall is recognized for having a level of thoroughness and discipline across the key areas of its business. This success translates into how our products are designed, how they are built, how corrective actions are identified and handled, how communications both internal and external are managed, and how procedures and processes are documented and then followed.

Achieving successful ISO9001 recertification is a proud moment for Headwall every three years, and we wanted to make mention of it here.
Tags: Headwall Photonics, ISO9001

Nano-Hyperspec...in the air and on the ground

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Fri, Feb 06, 2015

Next week during Photonics West we’ll be demonstrating our very newest hyperspectral sensor: Nano-Hyperspec. We gave it that name because it’s small...exceptionally small. Think of a Rubik's Cube and you've got it. The market said it needed a robust, aberration-corrected hyperspectral sensor purpose-built for small, hand-launched UAVs. One perfect example is the X6 from the Aibotix division of Leica-Geosystems, a company with whom Headwall signed an agreement in late 2014. “There’s a confluence within the remote sensing marketplace,” said Headwall CEO David Bannon. “The attractiveness of affordable, easy to launch UAVs runs headlong into the need for perfectly matched sensor instruments that they can carry.” In conceiving Nano-Hyperspec, Headwall consolidated and integrated as much as possible to yield a small, performance-packed unit that even the smallest UAVs could easily carry.

“Ordinarily, a hyperspectral sensor talks to a separate computer in order to transfer large amounts of image data quickly,” noted Bannon. “But small UAVs don’t have the payload capacity to carry a separate data-processing unit and the cables they require.” So the first order of business was to put the data processing and storage technology into the sensor itself, which frees up space for other accessories. For proper image-data collection from a UAV, the hyperspectral sensor needs to work along with a GPS. Nano-Hyperspec was designed so that the GPS can attach directly to the housing, further saving weight and space. “Integrating these normally disparate pieces into an integrated whole is what the market continually tells us it needs,” noted Bannon. “All of this not only makes for a lightweight sensor package, but also allows for the addition of technology such as LiDAR, which itself is collecting valuable data for scientists to use.”

Nano Leica logoNano-Hyperspec focuses on the Visible and Near-Infrared spectral range (often referred to as ‘VNIR’) of 400-1000nm. “Much of what needs to be seen from a UAV is taken at slow speeds and low altitudes,” said Bannon. This can be precision agriculture, environmental monitoring, minerals and geology, or any of a number of other uses. But to a large degree, what becomes visible to a hyperspectral sensor between 400 and 1000nm can include the presence of disease conditions on a tree canopy where it otherwise might be invisible from below. “Entire economies depend on agriculture,” said Bannon. “If a low-flying UAV with our specially-tuned hyperspectral sensor can ‘see’ an invasive disease, our technology becomes vital rather than simply desired.”

One of the hallmarks of all Headwall sensor designs is aberration-correction. In simple terms, this means making sure that the sensor sees as crisply and clearly off to the edges of its field of view is as it does straight beneath the line of flight. The holographic diffraction grating embedded within each sensor is designed to make this so, by eliminating unwanted artifacts such as ‘keystone’ and ‘smile’ that are more pronounced off to the edges of the field of view. “In practical terms, it means that the sensor has a very wide field of view that is accurately represented,” said Bannon. A wider view means a more efficient flight path. In short, the UAV can cover more ground because it can accurately ‘see’ more ground. This is particularly crucial because UAVs are battery-powered; the objective is to maximize useful work in the limited time aloft. A wide view of the ground at exceptionally high spatial and spectral resolution allows this to be so.

holographic gratingsIt has been said that people buy holes, not drills. They basically have a problem that needs an answer. How they get their hole or derive their answer is an exercise in technology, economics, and speed. “We have a technical solution that is affordably priced,” said Bannon. The partnership with Leica-Geosystems helps. “Time-to-deploy is an exercise in economics and lost opportunity because real value can be derived the sooner the UAV/hyperspectral package is airborne and collecting useful data.”

Not lost on the remote-sensing community is this: many applications involve taking image data from the ground rather than from a UAV. Nano-Hyperspec is easily attached to a tripod and a rotational stage so that the necessary movement (which ordinarily would come from a UAV) instead happens from a ‘stationary’ platform. These deployments are sometimes called ‘point-and-stare’ or ‘pan-and-tilt,’ and it represents a means of accomplishing movement-based hyperspectral imaging on the ground.

Headwall's booth at Photonics West (Moscone Convention Center, San Francisco) is 2506. Hope to see you there!

Tags: hyperspectral imaging, Headwall Photonics, Remote Sensing, UAS, UAV, Leica-Geosystems

Spectral Imaging Within the Collection-Care Industry

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Mon, Dec 29, 2014

Hyperspectral imaging is finding a home in so many interesting places, among them the fascinating field of cultural preservation. Conservation care professionals across academia and the museum world are tasked with learning as much as they can about the treasures under their care.  These treasures range from artifacts such as vases, to paintings, documents, and maps.

spectral imaging in collection careIn all cases the objective is to non-invasively increase the body of knowledge. Are there features that are invisible by any other means of analysis? Are there chemical pigmentation signatures on paintings that spectroscopy can ‘see?’ Are there any hidden writings that can be uncovered? Hyperspectral imaging can help conservation-care experts determine origins, dates, materials, and other characteristics useful to their work. Indeed, spectroscopy can also help improve the preservation of these treasures by uncovering evidence of similar efforts done years or decades previously. Hyperspectral imagers offer scholars, curators and conservators unique advantages:

  • Enhance faded or hidden features-text/signatures
  • Detect restorations and repairs via chemical signa­ture
  • Monitor and track changes of the object, or repairs and restorations
  • Identify local material components for proper re­pair
  • Assess original coloring and pigmentation

On December 9 at The Natural History Museum in London, Headwall organized and sponsored a workshop and seminar on hyperspectral imaging in the collection-care industry. Noted experts from worldwide universities, museums, and libraries came to hear about how hyperspectral imaging can help unlock hidden secrets while advancing the overall body of knowledge of the treasures under their care.

Mr. David Howell of The Bodleian Libraries spoke about building a suite of non-destructive imaging techniques. Mr. Chris Collins of The Natural History Museum spoke about assessing fading in natural history specimens. And Christina Duffy of The British Library discussed their use of multispectral imaging on the treasures under their care (including the Magna Carta!).

Setting the stage for the day was Mr. Kwok Wong, who serves as Headwall’s Senior Systems Applications Engineer. Kwok has done considerable work with The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston, imaging a Mayan Vase and other artifacts. Kwok explained the basics behind multispectral and hyperspectral imaging and the kinds of valuable information that can be collected in a non-destructive, non-invasive manner.

Dr. Greg Bearman, a noted expert in the field of spectral/chemical imaging within the collection-care industry, discussed his impressive work to date and how the techniques can best be applied. Dr. Bearman’s examples included paintings, documents, and artifacts...with each requiring a slightly different approach depending on the spectral ranges that need to be covered.

Guests were encouraged to bring samples of their treasures for Headwall to image during the day. A few of the attendees did so, and Headwall had its VNIR (Visible/Near-Infrared) Starter Kit operational in the room. Attendees could see first-hand how the science of spectroscopy can be used to further their preservation and analytical efforts.

Most often, the collection-care industry cares most about imaging in the VNIR (380-1000nm) and SWIR (950-2500; short-wave infra-red) ranges.  Imaging in the VNIR and SWIR has a number of impor­tant and interesting applications for Cultural Heritage because this type of imaging technology provides a more complete representation of the entire field of view. This is a critical distinction because true con­text is provided on what are typically heterogeneous objects; by comparison, point sensors can only sam­ple discrete locations. Imaging in the VNIR has been used since the mid 1990s for texts and paintings. For texts, the application is typically content; for example, reading palimpsests and faded or damaged texts and maps. For art, the application is typically color and pig­ment mapping. SWIR imaging offers the possibility of chemical imaging, allowing the conservator to monitor and track chemistry changes over time.

Since little or no preparation of the document or ar­tifact is necessary, this non-destructive spectral tech­nique is invaluable for a wide range of conservation research relating to changes in color, chemical and substrates. Within the field of view of the Hyperspec® sensor, hy­perspectral imaging provides quantitative spectral information for all wavelengths across the complete spectral range of the sensor.

The key to spectral data is calibration; well-calibrated datasets can be compared and analyzed over time and between mul­tiple users. There is an existing and significant body of spectral analysis, classification and mapping algo­rithms and software available to work with spectral data. Most of this software has been developed over the last 20 years for satellite remote sensing and is easily available.

The job of the hyperspectral sensor is to collect image data and then assemble this valuable information into a ‘datacube,’ which represents a data set that includes all of the spatial and spectral information within the field of view.


Tags: Natural History Museum, artifacts, antiquities, Artwork, chemical imaging, artwork preservation, Museum of Fine Arts

U.S. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas Visits Headwall

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Wed, Oct 29, 2014

Niki Tsongas, Congresswoman from the 3rd Congressional District in Massachusetts, visited Headwall today to meet with Company officials and speak to employees. Ms. Tsongas applauded Headwall’s focus on technical leadership across its core markets. “I’m fascinated by all the exciting applications for your products,” Tsongas noted. “My work in Congress is aimed at strengthening the entrepreneurial spirit I see when I visit companies like Headwall.”

Niki TsongasDuring the visit, Congresswoman Tsongas toured Headwall’s Fitchburg facility and saw firsthand how the Company’s vertically-integrated approach moves spectral imaging sensors from design to production very rapidly. The sensors, used by industry and government, collect a complete ‘spectral picture’ of whatever is within the field of view. This can be from a satellite, a manned aircraft, a small UAV, or along a high-speed inspection line where product quality can be determined by hyperspectral imaging.

During the ‘town hall’ meeting with employees, Tsongas fielded questions from employees on a range of topics, including her position on STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). “Education in these areas represents the catalyst for companies like Headwall to flourish,” noted Tsongas. “You need people who can hit the ground running, and education is fundamental to achieving a labor force that is ready to go in very challenging areas across science and technology.”

Headwall CEO David Bannon thanked Congresswoman Tsongas for visiting Headwall. “We’re very honored to have you here today because it reinforces Washington’s support for small, entrepreneurial, technology-driven companies like ours.”

Congresswoman Tsongas was elected to the United State House of Representatives in a 2007 special election, becoming the first woman in 25 years to serve in Congress from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She represents the Massachusetts Third District, which had previously been known as the Fifth District until her most recent reelection in 2012. Tsongas holds the same seat that was held three decades earlier by her late husband, former Congressman, U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Paul Tsongas. The Third District spans portions of Essex, Middlesex and Worcester counties.

Tsongas serves on the House Armed Services Committee, a position she sought out when first elected. In 2013, Tsongas’ hard work led to her being named to a leadership position as the top Democrat on the Subcommittee for Oversight and Investigations. The Third District has a long history of military service, which is reflected both in the number of residents who serve in the active duty military as well as in the numerous veterans who call the Third District home.  Tsongas also represents one of the largest concentrations of defense related employers in the country that manufacture the products, develop the technology and create the jobs that keep our nation strong and our service members safe.

As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Tsongas has pushed for development of lightweight body armor and new measures to better prevent and respond to incidents of sexual assault in the military.

Tsongas also serves on the Natural Resources Committee, which oversees legislation related to domestic energy production, National Parks, rivers, forests, oceans and wilderness areas.

More can be learned about Congresswoman Tsongas at her official web site.


Tags: Headwall Photonics, Fitchburg, Niki Tsongas, U.S. Congress, 3rd Congressional District, Massachusetts

Headwall Delivers Micro-Hyperspec® Sensors to Columbia University

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Thu, Oct 09, 2014

High-performance imaging sensors on small, commercial UAS will assess ocean and sea ice variability in Arctic zones

FITCHBURG, MA - OCTOBER 9, 2014: Headwall Photonics has delivered two high-performance hyperspectral imaging sensors to Columbia University as part of its Air-Sea-Ice Physics and Biogeochemistry Experiment (ASIPBEX). ASIPBEX is part of a larger international collaborative investigation of Climate Cryosphere Interaction with colleagues from Spain, Germany and Norway. This crucial remote-sensing project will use a high-endurance unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to investigate climatological changes present in the Arctic Ocean around Svalbard, Norway. The instrument payload comprises two Micro-Hyperpsec sensors; one will cover the Visible-Near-Infrared (VNIR) range of 400-1000nm while the other will cover the Near-Infrared (NIR) range of 900-1700nm. Together, the sensors will be crucial in detecting indicators of sea ice physics, solar warming and global carbon cycles.


UAS and Micro-Hyperspec"We chose the Headwall sensors for several reasons," stated Christopher Zappa, a Lamont Research Professor at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "The very high resolution allows us to collect and process vast amounts of spectral and spatial data upon which our research and analysis depend." The wide field of view of the Headwall sensor combined with aberration-corrected optics also contributes to overall flight-path efficiency. The UAS allows scientists to measure in places that typically are impossible to get to using ships or manned aircraft. This opens up the possibility for transformative understanding of the climate system. "Since we're using a UAS, we depend on 'seeing' as much of the ocean surface as possible, minimizing any aberrations or unwanted artifacts along the edges of the field of view," noted Prof. Zappa. The combination of Micro-Hyperspec and Headwall's advanced Hyperspec III airborne software allows for the successful collection, classification, and interpretation of the spectral data collected during each flight.


This particular deployment for the ASIPBEX project is fundamental to Headwall's strategy of advancing the science of remote sensing aboard small, commercial unmanned aircraft systems. "Hyperspectral represents a crucial payload for any manned or unmanned deployment," noted Headwall CEO David Bannon. "But significantly notable is that the UAS has become a 'go-to' platform. This means not only smaller and lighter sensors, but also integrated solutions that factor in everything from LiDAR and data-management to post-processing tasks such as ortho-rectification that our software can handle." Because the Micro-Hyperspec sensor uses high efficiency diffraction gratings in a concentric, optical design, imaging performance and signal-to-noise are both maximized. The patented optical design provides a package that is rugged and robust for airborne use in harsh environments such as the Arctic ocean.


The Observatory for Air-Sea Interaction Studies (OASIS) 

Led by Professor Christopher Zappa, the Observatory for Air-Sea Interaction Studies (OASIS) conducts research in a variety of fields focused on the oceanic and atmospheric boundary layers. These include wave dynamics and wave breaking, air-sea CO2 gas exchange, non-satellite remote sensing and boundary-layer processes. Affiliated with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) and Columbia University, OASIS is involved in joint projects with the Polar Geophysics Group of LDEO, Yale University, the University of Heidelberg, the University of Connecticut, and the University of New South Wales and participated in various large multi-institution projects such as CBLAST-Low, GasEx, VOCALs, RaDyO, DYNAMO.  

The group develops and deploys instruments including infrared, multispectral, and polarimetric cameras on different fixed and mobile platforms such as ships, aircrafts, buoys. The study areas range from laboratory wind-wave tanks, Biosphere2, to local rivers and estuaries, to shelf seas and polynyas, to open ocean from the poles to the equator.

For information contact:

Professor Christopher J. Zappa, Lamont Research Professor 

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory 


Tags: hyperspectral imaging, Airborne, Remote Sensing, Micro Hyperspec, UAS