Headwall Photonics, Leica Geosystems form UAV partnership

By Patrick C. Miller | January 08, 2015

Leica Geosystems will resell and integrate Headwall Photonics’ line of hyperspectral imaging sensors into its airborne product portfolio under a partnership agreement between the two companies.

A leader in geospatial data acquisition and mapping products, Leica Geosystems selected Headwall’s hyperspectral imaging sensors to meet its growing demand for advanced hyperspectral sensors. The sensors acquire imagery data which includes both spatial and spectral (chemical) information within the mapping area of interest.

Based near Boston in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Headwall also operates a production and integration facility in Diegem, Belgium.

David Bannon, Headwall CEO, said the partnership was formed after Leica purchased a company that manufactures small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). They wanted to equip their UAVs with lightweight hyperspectral sensors with low power consumption. Because Headwall had introduced nano-hyperspectromety—a miniaturized version of its sensors—it was a good fit for the Leica Geosystems UAV, Bannon said.

“Headwall offers a complete line of hyperspectral sensor solutions that is well aligned with our customer’s application environments and the need for high quality spectral imaging data,” said Ruedi Wagner, vice President of Leica Geosystems Geospatial Solutions Division. “With extremely innovative products such as the Nano-Hyperspec, the Hyperspec sensors offer superior performance for harsh airborne environments.”

Hyperspectral imagery enables users to obtain critical information related to the material composition of objects in the sensor’s field of view. Headwall’s Hyperspec sensors generate a very high resolution hyperspectral “datacube” that enable users to map features based on the chemical composition of objects in the scene.

For example, forests can be mapped by plant species, quarries can be mapped by mineral composition, and farmland can be mapped by plant vitality.

“One of the key things we’ve learned over the years is that you need to have aberration-corrected sensor,” Bannon said.

Conventional lenses, especially near the edges, can distort an image, creating aberrations that make some of the data collected useless. Because many UAVs can fly for 20-30 minutes only, Bannon said it’s important that the data in the swath covered in the flight path contains as much useable data as possible.

What makes Headwall’s sensors unique is the use of its aberration correction technology which enables the UAV to fly a wide flight swath while collecting a large amount of data. Headwall is the only company that builds diffractive optics that provide aberration correction, according to Bannon.

Headwall Photonics is a leading designer and manufacturer of imaging sensors and spectral instrumentation for industrial, commercial, and government markets. Its high-performance spectrometers, spectral engines, and diffractive optics have been selected by manufacturers and end-user customers around the world for use in critical application environments.