Flir Systems is introducing its new Star Safire family of high-definition cameras that it says will mean operators no longer having to compromise on performance because their aircraft cannot carry larger, heavier equipment. The new range of camera gimbals use common mounting hardware and cabling and, according to the U.S. manufacturer, weigh barely half of other systems (less than 50 pounds versus around 100 pounds).
Certifying camera systems on helicopters is a significant challenge and the weight and dimensions of the mounting systems is generally the main issue, explained Flir’s communications v-p, David Strong. The new large-aperture Star Safire gimbals have about the same overall diameter as existing large, high-performance units (typically around 15 to 16 inches), but it is only 14 inches in height and weighs much less due to its simplified hardware.
“We’ve changed the geometry so that the new systems gives better performance than [current] large systems and still have all the benefits of smaller systems [in terms of weight and ease of installation],” Strong told AIN. “Until now many helicopters have not been able to carry the most advanced camera systems and a lot of operators have had to compromise on aperture size and performance. Our game-changing solution ends this inherent trade off.”
The Star Safire family encompasses an array of high-definition cameras, including infrared TV, low-light TV, color daylight TV and short-wave infrared, as well as laser pointers and range-finders. Flir also can offer specific units of particular markets, such as Europe, so as to avoid issues with U.S. ITAR restrictions on exporting defense technology.
In addition to reducing weight and packaging, Flir has also re-engineered the camera optics. “We make everything in these systems and so we can tailor every part for size and how they fit together; we’re not buying off-the-shelf,” explained Strong. Because the company uses entirely its own designs and technology–routinely investing 10 percent of its revenues on research and development–it can spread the cost of the different system elements (including costly items like cryocoolers) so that the product remains competitive.
The new Star Safire HD cameras have already seen action in high-profile operations such as the hunt for the alleged Boston marathon bombers. They were also used in the search for survivors following last year’s shipwreck of the Costa Concordia cruise liner off the coast of Italy.
“High definition cameras give a larger window on the world that allow operators to see further and see a broader area in a smaller amount of time because they give more image content,” said Strong. “It allows operators to do their work more safely and more covertly.”
Portland, Oregon-based Flir Systems was founded by in 1978 with a mission to commercialize infrared technology that had previously only been available at high cost to the military. With the acquisition of ICX, it was able to add a wider range of detection systems. It has been helping clients with a wide-range of operational needs such as tracing oil spills to specific ships and detecting gas leaks.