Ultrafast Imaging using Arrayed Quantum Detection Technologies (ULTRA-IMAGE)

Lead Research Organisation: Heriot-Watt University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering and Physical Science


Vision is arguably the most important of our senses and our most direct channel of interaction with the surrounding world. It is no surprise therefore that so much of the technology that affects our everyday lives relies on light in one form or the other. The continuous strive to improve our light sources, ranging from lasers for research purposed to ambient lighting technologies is paralleled by a continuous increase in efforts to improve our imaging capabilities, ranging from artificial vision implants to hyperspectral imaging.
An exciting and emerging imaging technology relies on the ability to detect remarkably low light signals, i.e. even single photons. This same technology, based for example of Single-Photon-Avalanche-Detectors (SPADs) comes hand in hand with another rather unexpected and also remarkable feature: incredibly high temporal resolution and the ability to distinguish events that are separated in time by picoseconds or less. This temporal resolution is obtained by operating the SPAD in so-called Time-Correlated-Single-Photon-Counting (TCSPC) mode, where the single photons are detected in coincidence with an external trigger and then electronically stored with a precise time-tag that, after accumulating over many events, allows to precisely identify the photon arrival time.
These technologies are now relatively well established and are routinely employed in research activities, mainly associated to quantum optics measurements and time of flight measurements. However, these detectors are all single pixel detectors and thus do not allow to directly reconstruct an image in much the same way that a digital camera with a single pixel will not create an image. Workaround solutions have been adopted; for example a laser may be scanned across an object and the single pixel records intensity levels for each position of the laser beam.
However, our obsession with the pixel-count in our latest digital camera clearly explains the paradigm shift in going from a single pixel detector to a multi-pixel detector and eventually to high resolution imaging.
ULTRA-IMAGE aims at demonstrating a series of applications of very novel SPAD technology: for the first time these detectors are available in imaging arrays. This is an emerging technology that will represent the next revolution in imaging and we will have first hand access to each technological breakthrough in SPAD array design, as they occur over the next few years.
We are currently employing 32x32 SPAD arrays and will be using the first ever (at the time of writing) 320x240 pixel array, which is able to deliver the first high quality spatially resolved images. The remarkable aspect of these detectors is that they still retain their picosecond temporal resolution therefore enabling a series of game-changing and remarkable technological applications that are not even conceivable with traditional cameras.
As examples of the potential of this new imaging technology, we will utilise our SPAD cameras to visualise the propagation of light and perform time-of-flight detection of remote objects in harsh environments (the FEMTO-camera), to enable of the real-time tracking of objects hidden from view (the CORNER-camera), and to perform the first quantum measurements using low-rep rate, high-power lasers (the QUANTUM-camera). The solutions we will develop are enabled by four key features: first, the single-photon sensitivity of silicon detectors; second, the spatial resolution provided by the arrayed nature of the detectors; third, the precise picosecond and femtosecond timing resolution; and fourth, the ultra low-noise performance of gated detection.

Planned Impact

Imaging technologies are at the forefront of a wide range of applications in numerous fields. Our most obvious and direct interaction with the surrounding is world is through vision; hence, advances in imaging technologies are possibly the most valuable in terms of broadband impact. Our goal is to develop and demonstrate imaging technologies with significantly better temporal resolution and better sensitivity than the current state of the art. Our program builds upon the UK's existing worldwide-recognised excellence in the areas of SPAD detector development (including technologies developed at ST Microelectronics), time-of-flight depth imaging, and low-light level imaging. This will put the UK at the forefront in terms of challenging and exciting engineering problems, such as imaging around corners, through turbid, scattering media, and in situations where low-noise single-photon sensitivity and arrayed detectors (a combination that is a unique aspect of CMOS SPADs) is required. SPAD arrays are already on the verge of commercial impact in some areas (notably positron emission tomography - PET) and we will help consolidate the UK's leadership position in the field by establishing strong foundations in other fields, for example in security and defence. Letters of support from DSTL and SELEX illustrate the potential impact of this work in this field.
Our work will prove the potential for emerging SPAD technology thus lending support for the case for future commercialisation of these arrays. Our work will also push the limits broaden the vision of what can be done with modern imaging technologies and thus potentially seed future developments.
Finally, the translational nature of this proposal means that it is positioned in both quantum information processing and general photonics. Quantum Information Processing is highlighted as a New and Emerging Area in EPSRC's ICT Theme. Quantum Optics and Information is also a growth area highlighted in EPSRC's Physical Sciences Theme and thus translates some work previously considered within EPSRC's Physical Sciences Theme to the ICT Theme where we expect improved interaction with the image processing and computer vision communities.


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Title Edinburgh Science Festival 
Description In collaboration with Lily Hibberd (Australian artist) we developed a museum exhibit for the Edinburgh Science Festival. This exhibit featured four pieces that investigated the relationship between human perception and the flow of time by relating this to a series of experiments performed and recorded in our lab. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The exhibit was open for 1 month and attracted significant attendance. 
URL https://youtu.be/V1KIvtsC7Zg
Title First Light 
Description Art exhibition "First Light" curated by artist Lily Hibberd in collaboration with Daniele Faccio. Exhibition at the Musee des Arts et Metiers, Paris, France. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact This collaboration led to a artist residency funded by Leverhulme. 
URL http://www.arts-et-metiers.net/musee/first-light
Description We have shown the first ever measurement of light in flight - we have developed a camera technology so fast that it can freeze light in motion. We then used this technology to demonstrate the ability to see and track moving objects from behind corners. We have recently also extended our capability to identify and track human beings behind a wall at a stand-off distance of 50 meters.
Exploitation Route We are engaging with a number of companies including Thales, the Centre for Defense Enterprise and DSTL.
Our findings are of interest for monitoring hostage situations and the automotive industry.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Transport

Description - Art exhibition in Paris, "first light" by Lily Hibberd - We have also had a variety of media and press releases, including on the BBC, Reuters TV, TEDx, The Economist
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Other
Impact Types Cultural

Description Leverhulme artist in residence
Amount £12,500 (GBP)
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2016 
End 11/2016
Description What's inside that building?
Amount £65,000 (GBP)
Organisation Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL) 
Department Centre for Defence Enterprise
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2015 
End 06/2016
Description Whats inside that building, Phase II
Amount £167,000 (GBP)
Funding ID ACC5000080 
Organisation Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL) 
Department Centre for Defence Enterprise
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 04/2018
Description BBC Technology News 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact BBC interview on quantum technologies, highlighting recent advances in quantum imaging. The headline image is a photograph taken by the PI showcasing our work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47294704
Description Featured article and front cover of Optics and Photonics News 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Our work on imaging around corners was chosen as on of the highlights of 2016 by the Optical Society of America. A dedicated article was published in the Society's journal. The front cover was also a cartoon a representation of our work, commissioned by ourselves to a professional artist.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.osa-opn.org/home/articles/volume_27/december_2016/features/optics_in_2016/
Description Reuters TV interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Reuters TV came to our lab to interview team members about our work on imaging behind walls.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://uk.reuters.com/video/2016/05/11/ultra-sensitive-camera-sees-around-corne?videoId=368447746&vi...
Description TEDx talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact This TEDx talk was video recorded and posted on YouTube. It currently (Nov 2015, less than 1 month after being posted) has 1300 views.
YouTube link:

YouTube video has been viewed by more than 1300 people, including fellow academics but also the general public with very positive feedback.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icu2pA47FH4