Public Release: 

A sharper look: ONR researcher wins prize for satellite imaging work

Office of Naval Research

For research that could provide warfighters with extremely accurate digital images of future combat zones and potential enemies, a French mathematician sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) recently won the prestigious Longuet-Higgins Prize from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE) Computer Society.

Dr. Jean-Michel Morel specializes in image processing, a discipline combining information technology and mathematics to study digital images and improve their quality.

Morel's ONR work involves taking various two-dimensional satellite photos of an area and--by feeding complex mathematical equations into a series of fast-paced algorithms--merging those photos in real time until they present a 3-D scene. This provides military communications personnel in the field with richer, automatically generated details about different terrains and landscapes like mountains, rivers or valleys.

Besides mapping, the improved imagery also could help warfighters detect and identify possible threats such as tanks or vehicles laden with explosives, said Program Officer Dr. Predrag Neskovic, who works in ONR's Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) Department.

"Defense and security rely more and more on satellite images to analyze threats and provide an adequate response," said Morel. "However, these images are so huge and numerous that it's impossible to review them exhaustively. You need fast, automatic algorithms that can analyze data as it comes in."

Morel--who teaches at France's Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan--sharpens digital images and videos through the process of "de-noising," which filters out excess light, optical signals or electrical static that can cloud image resolution. Though the field of de-noising has been around for decades, Morel has taken it to a new level by studying previous best practices and inventing new equations and algorithms to clean up images automatically and in real time.

He even founded an online scholarly journal called Image Processing on Line, also sponsored by ONR, which allows those in industry and academia to test published, peer-reviewed image-processing algorithms.

"Jean-Michel is taking pure mathematical equations and formulas and using them to solve real-world problems," said Neskovic. "As satellite imagery gets larger and requires more bandwidth, his algorithms are critical to helping our Sailors and Marines get the intelligence and mapping information they need."

Morel's work is in line with several tenets of the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, a maritime strategy shared by the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The strategy calls for increased focus on battlespace awareness, which includes surveillance, intelligence gathering and greater knowledge about the environments in which warfighters operate.


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