Seeing through matter … a dream long the realm of science fiction but, since 2009, perfectly mastered by French company NeTHIS (New Terahertz Imaging Systems). Combining multi-spectral infrared and terahertz vision systems, the eponymous camera of this start up in Bordeaux has drawn the attention of the French military, the comapny’s CEO, Jean-Pascal Caumes, revealed last week.
While the primary mission of NeTHIS is the non-destructive testing of systems and infrastructure, the start-up has quickly turned to the defence and security world because this camera’s extremely wide range of applications includes, for example, the detection of mines and other explosive devices. “Imagine also,” says Caumes, “if a RAID or GIGN [the French police and gendarmerie special forces] operator could determine if a door is trapped or capture signals from any enemies hiding behind it.”
NeTHIS has been backed since 2015 by the ASTRID (Specific Assistance for Defence Research and Innovation) programme of the DGA French procurement agency, “a partnership necessary to develop a domestic market that represents only 10% of our turnover,” explains Caumes. The DGA has already acquired two cameras to study how they might be integrated into night vision systems.
This partnership, supported by ONERA (the French national aerospace laboratory), has enabled NeTHIS to raise nearly €700,000 since 2013 and to start “a phase of growth allowing the production rate to rise,” says Caumes. As the partnership with DGA ends in 2017, “NeTHIS has committed to bringing a mature product to market in 2018,” he adds.
NeTHIS technology is based on the frequency band that sits somewhere between the infrared remote control of your TV and the millimetre waves of your microwave. This “terahertz” or “T-ray” band, which extends from 100 GHz to 30 THz, has a strong penetrating power only blocked by metals and water. The combination of this T-ray with infrared thermography, using a converter patented in 2009, provides two types of information: the structural analysis of a material and the measurement of its physical parameters, such as temperature and moisture content. NeTHIS’s stroke of genius? “When our competitors were focused on thermal sensors, a costly and complex strategy, we thought about creating an efficient converter, easy to produce and use,” explains Caumes. A choice that has paid off because NeTHIS uses thermal systems that are already qualified and controlled by end users.
Particularly compact and mobile, the NeTHIS camera has dropped in weight from “two kilos to 800 grammes in two years“, says Caumes. Its range varies from one to five metres, for a resolution reaching a few millimetres and its energy consumption is less than 1 watt/ hour.
Unveiled in 2013, the NeTHIS camera found its first client just a year later in the shape of the Louvre Museum, eager to acquire a system allowing works of art to be inspected without being touched. A prestigious clientele which has since expanded thanks to orders received from Dassault and, more recently, from ATR and Airbus.The latest success: the acquisition of the NeTHIS system by a Japanese company to integrate it onto a mini drone.