SWIR, VIS and LWIR observer performance against handheld objects: A comparison
The short wave infrared spectral range caused interest to be used in day and night time military and security applications in the last years. This necessitates performance assessment of SWIR imaging equipment in comparison to the one operating in the visual (VIS) and thermal infrared (LWIR) spectral range. In the military context (nominal) range is the main performance criteria. Discriminating friend from foe is one of the main tasks in today's asymmetric scenarios and so personnel, human activities and handheld objects are used as targets to estimate ranges. The later was also used for an experiment at Fraunhofer IOSB to get a first impression how the SWIR performs compared to VIS and LWIR. A human consecutively carrying one of nine different civil or military objects was recorded from five different ranges in the three spectral ranges. For the visual spectral range a 3-chip color-camera was used, the SWIR range was covered by an InGaAs-camera and the LWIR by an uncooled bolometer. It was ascertained that the nominal spatial resolution of the three cameras was in the same magnitude in order to enable an unbiased assessment. Daytime conditions were selected for data acquisition to separate the observer performance from illumination conditions and to some extend also camera performance. From the recorded data, a perception experiment was prepared. It was conducted as a nine-alternative forced choice, unlimited observation time test with 15 observers participating. Before the experiment, the observers were trained on close range target data. Outcome of the experiment was the average probability of identification versus range between camera and target. The comparison of the range performance achieved in the three spectral bands gave a mixed result. On one hand a ranking VIS / SWIR / LWIR in decreasing order can be seen in the data, but on the other hand only the difference between VIS and the other bands is statistically significant. Additionally it was not possible to explain the outcome with typical contrast metrics. Probably form is more important than contrast here as long as the contrast is generally high enough. These results were unexpected and need further exploration.