Detecting small size and minimal thermal signature targets in infrared imagery using biologically inspired vision

Muhammad Uzair, Russell S.A. Brinkworth, Anthony Finn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
66 Downloads (Pure)


Thermal infrared imaging provides an effective sensing modality for detecting small moving objects at long range. Typical challenges that limit the efficiency and robustness of the detection performance include sensor noise, minimal target contrast and cluttered backgrounds. These issues become more challenging when the targets are of small physical size and present minimal thermal signatures. In this paper, we experimentally show that a four-stage biologically inspired vision (BIV) model of the flying insect visual system have an excellent ability to overcome these challenges simultaneously. The early two stages of the model suppress spatio-temporal clutter and enhance spatial target contrast while compressing the signal in a computationally manageable bandwidth. The later two stages provide target motion enhancement and sub-pixel motion detection capabilities. To show the superiority of the BIV target detector over existing traditional detection methods, we perform extensive experiments and performance comparisons using high bit-depth, real-world infrared image sequences of small size and minimal thermal signature targets at long ranges. Our results show that the BIV target detector significantly outperformed 10 conventional spatial-only and spatiotemporal methods for infrared small target detection. The BIV target detector resulted in over 25 dB improvement in the median signal-to-clutter-ratio over the raw input and achieved 43% better detection rate than the best performing existing method.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1812
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021


  • Biologically inspired vision
  • Infrared image processing
  • Small moving target detection
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles


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