The stage is set for an Indian company to manufacture "microbolometers" or "Uncooled Sensors" enabling thermal imaging and night vision products with Chinese collaboration, a company official said here on Saturday.

The Mumbai-based "Systems 4 Evera (S4E) on Saturday signed a deal with China's Dali for technology transfer and manufacture of these devices which have widespread use in the defence sector, for police, surveillance organisations as well as commercially.

"This will make us the fourth country in the world to manufacture these equipment after US, France and China, while Israel specializes in 'Cooled Sensor' devices," S4E Chairman Raj Chodankar told IANS.

Mahindra Defence Systems Ltd will also join hands in the venture, estimated to cost around Rs 100 crore, he added.

"We may set up our manufacturing unit either in Mumbai or Goa, where the state government has offered us a soft loan through Economic Development Corporation Ltd, Goa," said Chodankar, a Goa-born, Mumbai-educated technocrat.

Earlier, addressing media persons, Chodankar said even as the deal with Dali was being finalized, S4E has been flooded with offers from US, Russia, European countries and others as the niche industry for these critical is expected equipments is expected to double to $3.6 billion in the next few years.

"We will offer the complete range of thermal imaging and night vision products for use by the Indian defence establishment, police, surveillance agencies and commercial establishments like malls or corporate houses as security is becoming a big issue these days across sectors," he said.

Presently, these equipment are imported by India at huge costs, but after the domestic production begins at S4E, the costs are expected to be slashed to as low as Rs 65,000 a piece, or nearly 20 percent lower than the same competing piece from a foreign company, with no minimum restrictions on the number of units.

Chodankar said S4E, with strengths in design and electro-optics, has acquired technology rights and patents on an exclusive basis for weapons sights, uncooled thermal imaging systems and multifunctional hand-held thermal imagers.

"Initially, we plan to manufacture around 800,000 units annually here, which we hope to double within a few years as the demands for these equipments is huge globally," he said.

While ULIS of France is the second largest producer of microbolometers, FLIR of US is the largest manufacturer of this equipment, but both mainly cater to the local markets as their exports are restricted under the International Traffic Arms Regulation.

Incidentally ULIS has an active presence in India and supplies its products to various security organisations here.

"As thermal imaging, night vision and surveillance products are very sensitive from the country's security viewpoint, a need was felt to have a manufacturing set up in India instead of solely depending on foreign companies," Chodankar said on the rationale behind the venture.

The Chinese collaborator Dali occupies a significant global market share and enable the makers of consumer electronics and infra-red equipments to produce low-weight, low-power consumption and cost-effective thermal devices for deployment in everyday applications.

The detectors used in such equipment are characterised by pixel arrays for surveillance in border and sensitive areas of the country and in defence and commercial security applications.

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