Headwall Photonics Blog

Hyperspec SWIR Gets UAV Wings!

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Thu, Sep 14, 2017

Remote sensing with hyperspectral sensors is  a combination of several elements: an imaging spectrometer and a fast data processing system to acquire and analyze spectral and spatial data. For remote sensing missions such as crop disease or invasive species detection, the spectral range of most interest is the visible-near-infrared (VNIR) from 400-1000nm.

Geologic exploration requires a different spectral region as spectral signatures of interest are evident in the shortwave-infrared (SWIR) range of 900-2500nm. Each type of mineral has its own unique spectral signature reflecting its chemical composition. Since certain minerals reflect light slightly differently, it's important to have many contiguous spectral bands.  

Given the sensor requirements for generating SWIR hyperspectral data, spectral imaging sensor systems require efficient consideration of size, weight, and power requirements for deployment on UAVs. Headwall has worked strategically to 'lightweight' its Hyperspec sensors for field deployment. One of the main design aspects is that Headwall uses an 'all-reflective' approach which allows for a very small instrument size and form factor. The Hyperspec sensors are smaller and lighter but also more robust in airborne situations, particularly for UAV deployment. 


Headwall's Micro-Hyperspec SWIR is being successfully deployed on the multi-rotor UAVs with excellent stability and imaging results. What's more, the entire payload also includes a high-performance GPS/IMU and Headwall's HyperCore data-fusion hub that synthesizes the data streams coming from complementary instruments. For example, LiDAR can also be integrated to the payload and handled by HyperCore.  

There are several aspects of Headwall’s spectral imaging sensor design that are advantageous for geological research. “When you’re using a UAV, flight time is crucial,” said Peter Clemens, Director of Engineering at Headwall. “Efficiently capturing wide swaths of valuable image data on each flight is therefore a huge advantage.” Headwall has built ortho-rectification into its Hyperspec spectral software allowing users to generate highly accurate geospatial data. “We give our customers the technology to identify not only what they see within the scene but a precise location as to where it is on the ground,” continued Clemens. Headwall has developed solution bundles that package both hardware and software systems necessary so that customers can quickly acquire spectral data but also efficiently process this data and view spectral maps.

Tags: hyperspectral imaging, Airborne, Remote Sensing, geology

Far Away and Long Ago: Hyperspectral Imaging Plays Key Role

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Mon, Jun 02, 2014

Hyperspectral imaging sheds new light on prized Martian rock specimen

Scientists have forever been fascinated with space. What’s up there? Does life as we know it exist elsewhere? Is there any other celestial body like earth?  While these questions might lack solid and precise answers, it’s not for lack of trying. Knowledge often comes not from massive ‘Ah-HA!’ moments, but from smaller discoveries.  When stitched together, these jewels of learning present a useful mosaic for future scientists.

Black BeautyA two billion-year-old meteorite—officially named NWA 7034 but nicknamed Black Beauty by scientists—recently crashed into the Sahara desert. It was found by scientists in 2011 and determined to be of Martian origin two years later. The geologic history of Mars has always been a fertile source of exploration given the never-ending interest in this relatively nearby yet mysterious planet. While exploring the Martian landscape provides a wealth of scientific data, this meteorite has itself been a goldmine of information. Why? Because it sheds light not on the Mars of here-and-now, but on what we believe happened 2.1 billion years ago to its geologic interior and surface.

The Black Beauty meteorite was lofted off the martian surface by a large impact, an explosive geologic event. The intrinsic value of the rocks can be appreciated mostly because they carry a snapshot of what the conditions were like on Mars at the moment the impact occurred. The Mars of today is fascinating, yes, but to have a sample of Mars from 2.1 billion years ago is more fascinating still. Indeed, Black Beauty is significantly older than almost all other Martian meteorites yet found.

In early 2014, a Brown University research team led by Dr. Jack Mustard and graduate student Kevin Cannon temporarily acquired a slice of Black Beauty from Dr. Carl B. Agee, Director of the Institute of Meteoritics at New Mexico University. Brown University analysis included hyperspectral imaging using Headwall’s VNIR (380-1000nm) and SWIR (950-2500nm) sensors to extract a wealth of meaningful spectral data. "We were really presented with a one-of-a-kind specimen in Black Beauty," noted Dr. Mustard. "We wanted to learn as much as we could and add to the body of geologic knowledge already accumulated."

BlackBeauty Headwall colorThe team paired the two sensors in Headwall’s 'Starter Kit' configuration, which comprises a moving stage, necessary and proper illumination, and full software control to manage the collection and post-processing of the incoming data. "What we saw as we ‘unpacked’ the data is that Black Beauty is rich in information that give us a clue as to what Mars was like over two billion years ago," said Cannon. "While rovers on Mars today are extracting important new data, to have an actual sample that we can analyze with our most sophisticated instruments is exciting."

In the adjacent hyperspectral image of Black Beauty, features become clear. The mineral feldspar shows up as green, and the mineral pyroxene comes out as yellow/red. "These two minerals make up most of the Martian crust, so it's exciting that we can see them and map them out spatially in the data," said Cannon.

There are a few characteristics of hyperspectral imaging that make it perfect for this sort of work. First, it is a non-invasive technology. That is, no samples are harmed or even touched. This is crucial, and the non-invasive nature of hyperspectral imaging lends itself not only to the study of Martian rocks like Black Beauty, but also the field of fine arts, artifacts and antiquities. Museums and collection-care experts are themselves seeing the value of hyperspectral imaging because of the amount of new information that can be collected non-invasively.

As a scanning technology, hyperspectral imaging is designed to ‘see the unseen’ and unlock the answers to challenging questions. There are numerous ‘imaging’ and ‘scanning’ techniques available to the scientific research community, but none possess the vast spatial and spectral information collected by Headwall’s instruments. "What we have been able to do is successfully introduce a brand-new tool into our toolbox and prove its value," said Dr. Mustard. "We saw things in the VNIR and SWIR spectral ranges that no one has seen before, and our overall body of knowledge is more expansive because of it." Hyperspectral imaging collects ALL the spatial and spectral data within the field of view, not just some of it (as is the case with multi-spectral).

And what about closer to home, here on earth? Hyperspectral imaging is becoming more mainstream and affordable so that research entities like Dr. Mustard’s group at Brown can tackle projects like these more readily than ever. Graduate student Rebecca Greenberger has done similar hyperspectral analysis on rock and geological formations that many of us drive by without glancing twice. "There’s a rock formation behind a Target store in Connecticut that is just loaded with incredible geological samples," said Greenberger. Many of those collected rock specimens have themselves been scanned with Headwall’s hyperspectral instruments, yielding spectacular results and new information about the geological history of our planet.

Tags: hyperspectral, Brown University, Martian meteorite, geology