Products > Thermal Imaging

The story of a Radiance 1 camera and Frasers quest to find information on it

(1/13) > >>

This is the story behind the quest I embarked upon to obtain information about a very special science and military grade cooled camera that I purchased a few years ago.

Are you sitting comfortably ?

Then I shall begin  ;D

Just a little story that may interest some readers.

A few years back, I forget exactly when, I saw an unusual thermal camera advertised on eBay. It was not your typical design of camera and bore two names Amber and Raytheon. Now I knew Raytheon but Amber was new to me. The camera model was “Radiance 1”. I did some Googling and discovered that Amber manufactured science and military grade cooled thermal imaging cameras. I found a picture of one such cooled camera that matched the one in the auction. Amber were bought by Raytheon, hence the “Amber-Raytheon” reference. Technical detail was very scarce but comments in scientific papers that mentioned the Radiance 1 suggested that it was MWIR and contained a very capable Stirling cooled 256 x 256 InSb FPA running at 60fps. The fact that it was Stirling cooled was a mixed blessing. The camera design dates back to 1993, but my camera is circa 1996, and Stirling Coolers can fail over time. A Stirling cooled MWIR Camera is, however, a pretty amazing piece of imaging equipment, if working. The images that they produce are so clean and low noise.

At this point I knew enough about the Radiance 1 to enter negotiations on price with the seller. I got the cameras history from him and it would appear that it originally belonged to some area of the Military. This is not surprising as such cooled cameras were horrifically expensive when new. The unit came with two lenses and these were also very expensive items in the 1990’s. The seller had not been able to test the camera and I would be buying it ‘as seen’. I had to seriously consider the possibility that the Stirling cooler was dead and the unit would then be an expensive paperweight. I advised the seller of this risk and we agreed on a price of £250 for the kit.

In due course the camera arrived in its lovely Amber-Raytheon branded Pelicase. I immediately noted the lack of scratches on the Pelicase exterior. This is a good sign as it shows care when handling. I opened the Pelicase and found a virtually mint condition Radiance 1 camera with all of its accessories, including Electronic Viewfinder and two lenses. The supplied lenses had HFOV of 22 Degrees and 11 Degrees. The Radiance 1 is equipped with a detachable power supply module that is a multi output DC-DC converter. It requires a 19V to 32V supply. The original 28V power supply was not in the case and would have been an option bought separately, if needed. The power supply input connector was a military grade Amphenol 4 pin unit. Thankfully these are common, but sadly, also expensive.

I took all the parts out of the case and inspected them. The unit looked like it had seen little, if any real use. Nothing was chipped, scratched or marked. This could have been a bad sign though. A camera that suffered a Stirling cooler failure early in its life may have sat un-repaired on a store shelf all its life. The only way to know was to apply power to the unit and see if the cooler sounded healthy and reached 77K in less than 15 minutes.

My first challenge was to determine the pinout of the power connector. I thought it likely that the 4 pins were paired up to share the relatively high current draw of a cooled camera. I was wrong. Upon opening the DC-DC converter unit it was obvious which pins were the power input. Another pin was connected to chassis and the fourth pin had an unknown function. I found some Amphenol female pins that fitted the cameras power pins and created a power cable for testing purposes. If the camera worked, I would order the correct Amphenol connector.

The camera was assembled with its lens and viewfinder ready to be tested. The temporary power cable was connected and power provided by a current limited lab power supply. The Lab power supply was set to 20V with a 3A limit just in case the DC-DC module had ‘issues’. The camera power switch was moved to “on” and ............
She lives ! The Stirling cooler could be heard to start up and buzz away sounding absolutely normal to my ears. Current draw was almost 3A, as expected in the initial 'cool down' phase. I started a stopwatch to see how long it took for the cooler to drop to its ‘maintain’ idle speed. The Electronic Viewfinder was alive and showed the system electronics side of the camera to be working as well. I waited patiently, and with some trepidation, for the sound of the cooler to change, indicating that it had reached its target temperature. After 5 minutes, I was thrilled to hear the familiar sound of a Stirling Cooler dropping into its idle 'maintain' state. The cooler was in excellent condition :) It was now time to see whether a thermal image was being produced in the EVF. There was an image but it was not as good as I had expected. There were dead pixels and more ‘noise’ than expected. I then remembered that these types of cameras use a manual NUC as, unlike Microbolometer based cameras, you only need to carry out NUC/FFC once due to the FPA operating in a closed loop cooled environment. I pressed the 2 Point NUC button and waited for the process to complete. This takes around 50 seconds as the ‘flag’ is presented to the FPA cool and then hot to provide the two point NUC. The flag is fitted with a Peltier module to set its temperature during the NUC process. After the NUC 2 Point ‘calibration’ the displayed image became what I had expected. Sharp, well defined and clean. BUT there were three or four dead pixels still visible. I carried out another 2 Point NUC but they were still present. How annoying I thought to myself (I am a perfectionist).

I tested the Radiance 1 cameras functions via its built in keypad and understood most of the functions. The 1 Point and 2 Point NUC process still confused me a little though. I knew what the generic meaning of the 1 and 2 point calibrations was but I expected the Dead Pixel Map to be updated after to remove any pixels that either were non responsive or beyond system correction. Hmmmm more research was needed into the workings of this cooled camera.

Now when you go hunting for user manuals or technical information on cooled staring FPA type cameras, life gets interesting. If you look on the FLIR data archives you will find the user manuals for scanning cooled cameras like the AGEMA THV880 or THV870 and even some cooled staring FPA types like the Inframetrics PM280. However, if you select the manual download for some specialist cooled staring FPA cameras you see a  statement from FLIR asking you to contact them directly. The reason is simple. Advanced Cooled Staring FPA technology is heavily controlled because of its capabilities. FLIR need to check who you are before supplying information on such cameras. They want to know your cameras Serial number to ensure that you are a legitimate owner of the technology. This can ‘capture’ cooled cameras that have ‘gone walkies’ from their original deployment and so is understandable. FLIR helped me with documents and software for my cooled FPA SC4000 once they had established who I was. What all this means though is that it is unlikely that I would find a copy of the Radiance 1 user manual or even a datasheet on the public internet :( Back in the 1990’s such information would have been heavily controlled in terms of release onto the internet for download. The documents would be provided by Raytheon ‘upon request’. My Google searching proved this to be the case as the only information I found on the Radiance 1 was from scientific papers that detailed the cameras use in experiments. One site had a limited specification but that was all.

I wrote to Raytheon asking whether they could help me from their document archives. They did respond, but stated that all the Amber-Raytheon documentation was long gone. They suggested that Sierra Pacific might be able to help me so I wrote to SP. I received no response :( Every avenue of investigation was a dead end. During my searches I did find comments on various forums about Ex. Employees of Amber offering some basic support help to customers with the obsolete cameras. These comments were from 2011 though. I tried making contact with the people mentioned and all the email addresses and companies were defunct. Another dead end. At this point I had other demands upon my time and other cameras to investigate. I carefully put my Radiance 1 camera back in its case to await use and further investigation.

Some time passed and I revisited the Radiance 1 under interesting circumstances.

I saw an amazing FLIR SC4000 Science grade high speed cooled thermal camera on eBay. I immediately placed a hefty bid on it and was amazed when I won the auction on a bid of £930. Now that might sound a lot of money, and it is to me as well. But the SC4000 and it’s siblings are no ordinary thermal camera. These represent some pretty amazing cooled camera technology that was originally designed for use on Military missile testing ranges ! Such a camera should not have been on open sale on eBay ! Fortunately it found safe British hands with me. The camera had been part of the assets auctioned off from a company that went into liquidation. I even found the details of the auctions in which it was sold and looked through the whole sorry story of the companies demise as Administrators worked to save it. The administrators reports were a pretty sad read. China based manufacturers undercut the companies products so their customer base evaporated.

I detailed the SC4000 purchase on this forum and a comment from one of our fellow forum members peaked my interest. He kindly told me a little of the history behind the FLIR SC4000 design. He had worked for Amber and, I think, for Indigo and FLIR ?
He advised that the ‘father’ of the SC4000 was the Indigo Phoenix and the father of the Phoenix was the Amber Radiance 1 ! I was so pleased to hear of this heritage. I had the Amber Radiance 1 and it’s ‘Grandson’ in the form of the SC4000.

A little background on a key person in AMBER may help explain the cameras development path.......

1983 AMBER Engineering Inc was founded by a group that included Dr William Parrish.

1992 AMBER was sold to Raytheon and became "Amber-Raytheon"

1996 Dr William Parrish then founded Indigo Systems

1998 Amber-Raytheon operations moved to Hughes Santa Barbara Research Centre

2004 Indigo Systems was sold to FLIR. Dr Parrish remained with the company.

2006 Dr William Parrish left FLIR to found Tyrian Systems
Tyrian Systems is now better known as SEEK Thermal

So the Founder of some of the best value and performance cooled thermal cameras used in Military applications was also a joint founder of SEEK Thermal  :)

Call me old fashioned but I like knowing the history of designs that have developed over many years and iterations. This news led me to restart my search for information on the Radiance 1 camera. With the knowledge that its design spawned the Indigo Phoenix I used the Wayback machine to learn about the Phoenix camera. Once again, I could find manuals for other cameras, but not the cooled staring FPA models. I did, however find reference to the software that controlled the Phoenix. I could see from screen shots that it supported the Amber Radiance 1 ! The software was “RTOOLS”. That software was written by a third party company and supported several manufacturers products. Indigo ended up buying the rights to the software for their use. The Amber Radiance 1 was likely a legacy entry and sadly later versions of RTOOLS  did not contain that support. RTOOLS is long obsolete but I did ask FLIR if they could help, but sadly not. Another dead end :(

I then took a different tack. I started looking for people who had worked for Amber. There were 220 staff at Amber-Raytheon when the whole operation was moved to the Hughes Santa Barbara Research Centre in 1998. I will not go into detail here about how I found key people as I wish to protect their privacy. I did find someone who I hoped might be able to help me with at least some of my questions about the camera and the NUC operation. I wrote to that person via a Facebook message. He did not know me so would likely choose to ignore my message. It was worth a try though.

Weeks went by and I had forgotten about the message as the nil response was fully expected. This week I got a surprise. This wonderful chap replied to my message and said he thought he could help me. I was thrilled beyond measure. I provided the chap with proof of my identity, nationality and location in order to quell any concerns he might have about providing information to me. He was very kind and friendly and said he would see what information he could find on the Radiance 1.

On Saturday, as promised, this wonderful chap sent me the user manual and some other useful stuff :) This chap had no reason to assist me beyond his kind personality and pleasure that I had a Radiance 1 camera in virtually mint and working condition. He was clearly very pleased for me. I had already told him of my passion for all things thermal imaging related. I thanked this wonderful chap for taking the time to track down the information for me and helping to make the Radiance 1 system work as she did when she left the factory. I am now able to update the Dead Pixel Map myself and I have learnt so much from the user manual. The simple user keypad interface belies the true capabilities of this lovely cooled camera.

If there is a moral to this story, it is ‘never give up’ and that there are some very kind and helpful people out there, if you can only find them :)

Pictures of my Radiance 1 camera attached.

I hope this story was of interest to some readers  :)


Pictures of the two lenses and the lens mount, showing the cooled FPA silicon window and temperature controlled NUC shutter.
Please excuse my kitten, Bailey, who wanted to be 'in on the action'  ;D


Pictures of the 'Grandson' of the Radiance 1. The Radiance 1 lenses are even usable on the SC4000 as they share the same mount and specification  :-+


Just some text of the news story when Raytheon purchased Amber in 1992......

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Raytheon Co. said Tuesday it has acquired Amber Engineering Inc., which designs video-imaging equipment, for an undisclosed price.

Raytheon said 11-year-old Amber, which has 140 employees and annual revenues of $13 million, will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary in its missile systems division.

A spokesman said that Raytheon plans to continue employing all current workers at Amber, of Santa Barbara, Calif.

Raytheon said the deal for Amber, which designs and produces an infrared focal plane arrays for military and civilian applications, will give it increased capability in the field of advanced imaging infrared missile development.

Raytheon said it has extensive experience in the manufacture of cost- effective infrared detectors and that Amber's 'leading-edge' technology would enable it to offer high-performance infrared focal plane array products in high volume and at low cost.

The arrays are designed to produce high-quality video images under both night and day conditions. They are used for spotting enemy missiles and in space-based early warning systems by the military, while commercial applications include border surveillance, medical imaging, environmental monitoring and collision avoidance systems for aircraft and automobiles.

Raytheon, of Lexington, Mass., is a conglomerate best known for producing the Patriot anti-missile defense system. It earned $156.1 million on revenues of $2.21 billion in the third quarter.

The text of the story detailing the move of Amber-Raytheon to new premises in 1998 ......

Raytheon Amber, a manufacturer of infrared focal plane array technology, plans to close its facility here and consolidate operations in what was formerly the Hughes Santa Barbara Research Center. The move comes as part of a widespread restructuring announced by Raytheon Amber's parent company, Raytheon Systems Inc.

While layoffs at Raytheon Amber appear likely, it remains unclear how many of the 220 employees at the Goleta plant will be absorbed by the Hughes facility, according to David Shay, manager of media relations for Raytheon Systems. Raytheon completed its acquisition of Hughes Defense in December.

Operating since 1981, the Goleta division designs and manufactures focal plane array detectors and high-performance cooled and uncooled infrared imaging systems. It also develops integrated circuit readouts, focal plane array fabrication, software and electronics. When Raytheon acquired Amber in 1992, it leveraged Amber's focal plane array technology into Raytheon's military programs.

Market impact

Amber's merger with Hughes Santa Barbara Research Center has caused widespread speculation about its potential impact on the IR market.

One industry expert said the consolidation would narrow the competitive field. Also factored into the changing market is the December merger of two of Raytheon Amber's chief competitors, FLIR and Agema. Both manufacture IR cameras. He added that the merger may be a sign that Amber is moving away from the commercial market to concentrate on defense. A reduction of Amber's presence in the marketplace could leave less competition in areas such as condition monitoring. Condition monitoring is an application related to preventive maintenance on factory floors. Other commercial applications include nondestructive testing, R&D and manufacturing process control.

Gabor Fulop, president of the market research firm Maxtech International Inc. in Valley Forge, Pa., presents a slightly different view, predicting the "new" Amber will emerge much stronger in both the commercial and defense sectors. A key to that strength is the expertise that both companies have in uncooled focal plane array technology, specifically microbolometers.

"Both Amber and [Santa Barbara Research Center] have licenses from Honeywell to produce microbolometers. That combination will be powerful," said Fulop. He predicted that after developers overcome some technical glitches hampering their manufacture, the microbolometer market is set to explode.

In addition, with only a handful of companies possessing the Honeywell license, the merger puts Raytheon on the brink of head-to-head competition with the likes of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Raytheon's recent acquisition of Texas Instruments' defense business also adds expertise in the field of ferroelectric focal plane array technology.

Photonics Spectra
Mar 1998


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

There was an error while thanking
Go to full version
Powered by SMFPacks Advanced Attachments Uploader Mod