Next Generation Imaging using Sparse Single-Photon Data

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


Over the last three decades, our lives have been revolutionized by the availability of inexpensive CMOS-based CCD cameras whose ubiquitous nature has changed key aspects of security, communications, data handling, healthcare, commerce and leisure for almost all sections of society, regardless of wealth or geographical location. For example, it is estimated that over one half of all adults in the UK own a smartphone with imaging/video capability - a statistic considered unthinkable less than 10 years ago. The next revolution in imaging will almost certainly be spearheaded by sparse photon and three dimensional imaging, ultimately using the effects of quantum entanglement. Such a revolution will necessarily require fast timing of the single-photon detection, in the form of arrayed detectors or single-pixel cameras. The use of fast timing will permit effective time-of-flight based depth profiling at remote distances, and the effects of quantum entanglement could be utilised effectively in critical niche examples, such as imaging below the diffraction limit, wavelength transmutation or quantum secure imaging. These revolutionary changes represent a paradigm shift in terms of functionality, but present significant challenges in algorithm development and data processing, as well as data fusion with other imaging platforms, for example multispectral and regular video. This Fellowship will allow me to bridge the gap between the enabling quantum technology and the image processing community in order to improve the scope and overall performance of next generation imaging systems based on quantum technology.

Planned Impact

This Fellowship will allow me to forge a strong link between the quantum technology and signal and image processing academic communities to develop a strong and sustained partnership in order to improve our understanding and develop optimised algorithms and hardware approaches for the sparse single-photon image regime. My research will extend these approaches to more novel entangled photon pair applications in microscopy and image security. With immediate benefits to the growing field of sparse photon imaging, both in academia and industry, allowing, for example, depth profiles to be formed with a minimum of frame time, opening up possibilities for video rate cm-resolution depth information even for targets at very remote distances. Also, the approach can be used for image formation in other environments, such as highly scattering underwater conditions, where the photon return from the target is necessarily very low. Later parts of my research will be concerned with laboratory demonstrations of high-resolution microscopy using entangled photons, of clear potential benefit to the microscopy community, particularly in biophotonics. It is clear that this research has the potential to impact several fields, both academic and industrial. In the second year, I will have a workshop for industrial partners, collaborators and other potential users who will be invited through my various networks, formal collaborations, quantum Technology Hubs, etc.. The workshop will examine all issues associated with the deployment of sparse photon depth imagers, and their reach into new application areas. This workshop will help cement links between quantum technology and image processing communities which will be enhanced by targeted follow-up events.
Users of Free-space Depth Imaging Systems
I have formal connections with SELEX ES, through my involvement as a member of the Management Board of the Strategic Alliance with HWU and via my co-supervision of a EngD student based at the company. The company have a research programme on long-range, single-photon imaging in free-space. Throughout the Fellowship, SELEX will be fully briefed regarding developments and discuss future requirements for future depth imaging in their sector. As an example of more detailed involvement, I will process the company's own depth image data and use these results to discuss future strategy.
Users of Underwater Imaging Systems
My research in underwater measurements in this field has been confined to laboratory demonstrations to date, these laboratory experiments and associated modelling have provided strong evidence of high-resolution imaging (ie sub-millimetre) being possible at distances of 10 metres and beyond even in typical (ie highly scattering) coastal water. This initial work has been funded by DSTL, in collaboration with Prof Yvan Petillot, an academic leader in underwater sensing and a co-founder of Seebyte, a HWU spinout company. Here, the use of optical depth imaging technology can be used in conjunction with autonomous vehicles to provide inspection tasks currently performed by manned exploration. Remote depth imaging can provide a more safe, and overall less expensive alternative. I will work with DSTL and Seebyte to seek impact opportunities and benchmark my technology against known industry standards, and to engage the oil and gas, and defence industries.
Users of microscopy
The super-resolution microscope proposed with the use of entangled photons has potential uses in a number of areas, with biophotonics being one of the obvious exploitation paths. I will work with the MRC-funded, HWU led Edinburgh Super-resolution Imaging Consortium, which attracts collaborative users from all over Europe. This engagement will allow interaction on a number of critical sub-diffraction limit imaging challenges, especially where photo-damage is evident. ESRIC also offers a gateway to the major microscopy vendors.
Description MoD Seeing Through Clouds
Amount £412,232 (GBP)
Funding ID DSTLX1000108233 
Organisation Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2016 
End 06/2018