Imaging over long distances is important for many defense and commercial applications. High-end ground-to-ground, air-to-ground, and ground-to-air systems now routinely image objects several kilometers to several dozen kilometers away; however, this increased range comes at a price. In many scenarios, the limiting factor becomes not the quality of your camera but the atmosphere through which the light travels to the camera. Dynamic changes in the atmospheric density between the camera and object impart time-variant distortions resulting in loss of contrast and detail in the collected imagery (see Figure 1 and Figure 2).
Several approaches have been developed to combat this effect that can be roughly divided into two categories: hardware-based and signal processing approaches. The primary hardware technique is adaptive optics (AO), an approach favored by the astronomical community to observe stellar phenomena. AO techniques generally employ a deformable mirror to correct the incoming wavefront before it is captured on the sensor. While this provides the ability to improve imagery to account for distortions, the equipment required is fragile and expensive and is therefore not suitable for many applications. In contrast, signal processing techniques are limited only by the computational hardware they run on. In our case, we have leveraged the processing power of GPUs to achieve the performance necessary for real-time processing of high-definition video. Thanks to modern GPUs, we are now able to process live 720p video streams at over 30 fps, as the video below shows.