Just as consumer cameras continue the shrink, so too are cameras designed for military and other commercial applications. The latest is a compact 3D imaging camera launched by Boeing that is designed to be deployed on a wide range of platforms, including unmanned aerial and ground vehicles. The cube-shaped camera is one-third the size and uses one-tenth the power of most comparable cameras.

The diminutive camera packs a lot of capability into its small frame. To create a 3D image, the camera fires a short pulse of laser light, then measures the pulse's flight time to determine how far away is each part of the camera's field of view. Its potential uses include mapping terrain, tracking targets and "seeing" through foliage. The camera is equipped with advanced sensors that have been developed by MIT's Lincoln Laboratory and transferred to Boeing under a teaming arrangement.

"The camera combines cutting-edge sensor technology with Boeing's advanced pointing and tracking solutions and real-time processing to provide our customers with highly integrated 3D imaging payloads for ground, airborne or space-based applications," said Joseph Paranto, Growth lead for Directed Energy Systems in Albuquerque.

Boeing is currently integrating the camera into compact 3D imaging payloads on unmanned aerial vehicles and will be testing that capability this spring. The team will also add 3D video capability to the camera soon to complement its existing still-image capability.

Boeing Directed Energy Systems and wholly-owned Boeing subsidiary Spectrolab have jointly developed the camera and successfully tested it over the past two years by attaching it to mobile ground platforms and a Boeing AH-6 Little Bird helicopter.