Infrared detector size: How low should you go?

Ronald G. Driggers, Richard Vollmerhausen, Joseph P. Reynolds, Jonathan Fanning, Gerald C. Holst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


In the past five years, significant progress has been accomplished in the reduction of infrared detector pitch and detector size. Recently, longwave infrared (LWIR) detectors in limited quantities have been fabricated with a detector pitch of 5 μm. Detectors with 12-μm pitch are now becoming standard in both midwave infrared (MWIR) and LWIR sensors. Persistent surveillance systems are pursuing 10-μm detector pitch in large format arrays. The fundamental question that most system designers and detector developers desire an answer to is: "How small can you produce an infrared detector and still provide value in performance?" If a system is mostly diffraction-limited, then developing a smaller detector is of limited benefit. If a detector is so small that it does not collect enough photons to produce a good image, then a smaller detector is not much benefit. Resolution and signal-to-noise are the primary characteristics of an imaging system that contribute to targeting, pilotage, search, and other human warfighting task performance. We investigate the task of target discrimination range performance as a function of detector size/pitch. Results for LWIR and MWIR detectors are provided and depend on a large number of assumptions that are reasonable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number063202
JournalOptical Engineering
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Imaging
  • Infrared systems
  • Performance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Engineering(all)


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