Yes, DARPA does have a reputation for coming up with some seriously far-fetched gadgets, but their Super-Resolution Vision System (SRVS) is not one of them. This project challenges designers to come up with an optics system that utilises heat haze to see further and clearer than ever before. Basically, it takes advantage of an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs whereby images can be magnified for fleeting moments behind the haze.
DARPA hopes that the SRVS technology “will provide 90% accurate facial recognition of a moving individual from 1 km away using a 6 cm lens.” That represents a 3-fold improvement over current technology under more favourable conditions. However, the technique does not currently operate in real time, so the goal for researchers is to achieve a refresh rate of one frame per second. A finished product should weigh in at no more than 2 kg with a length of around 35cm and be available to Special Ops units by 2011. For once, I actually believe that might happen. [SRVS via New Scientist]