Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Night vision may be getting a whole lot cheaper and more accessible

I'm very pleased to see that the ongoing development of night vision systems has led to the announcement of night vision sunglasses. That sounds a bit like a contradiction in terms - I mean, who wears sunglasses at night, apart from the Blues Brothers? - but it's true. Ares reports:

Night-vision goggles have become essential equipment for soldiers and airmen, but are heavy and expensive. Now a University of Florida research team has developed an infrared-to-vision imaging device that is cheap, light and could be added to eyeglasses once the technology is scaled up.

Conventional image-intensifying NVGs require high voltage and a heavy CRT-like vacuum tube to amplify the meager photons of a moonlit night. This makes them bulky, especially when clipped to a pilot's helmet. UF professor Franky So's imaging device uses organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology - as used in cell phone displays - and is thin and light, the university says.

Replacing the vacuum tube with several layers of thin-film organic semiconductors, the device consists of a photodetector connected to a light-emitting diode. Infrared photons are converted to electrons, which are injected into the LED to generate visible light. So far, So's team has produced versions ranging from millimetre- to nickel-size, but manufacture of larger devices is expected to be inexpensive as it could employ the same equipment used to make laptop screens.

There's more at the link.

The University has set up a spinoff company, Nirvision, to commercialize the technology. Their Web site describes the potential for this invention as follows:

Street lighting can be responsible for a significant proportion of an area's energy costs and CO2 production, but is essential for safety and comfort. But what if there was a way to do away completely with street lights?

NIRVision is using nanotechnology to develop flexible, thin films to replace existing night-vision technology. The films use several nano-based components to convert infra-red light into visible light that we can see and understand. The first is a photo-detector film that converts invisible infra-red light into electrons. These electrons then stimulate an optical film, like a thin flexible display, to create a visible image. The overall technology will be less than a 1/2000th of a millimeter in thickness, more sensitive than conventional night-vision technologies and will use just a 1/40th of the energy.

The films will be very flexible and lightweight and can be incorporated into standard glasses or even vehicle windscreens to create night-vision head-up displays. They will also cost a fraction of what it costs to produce conventional night-vision technology. The technology has exciting potential in all security applications. NIRVision technology should be ready for field testing by 2012.

Night-vision spectacles? Night-vision windscreens in our vehicles? In our aircraft? Even in our cellphones? This sounds like a huge advance in this technology - and if it's to be field tested as quickly as 2012, we may be able to buy commercial products incorporating it by 2014/15. I can hardly wait!



Anonymous said...

I remarked to a friend that if everyone was on goggles we could get rid of an awful lot of streetlights. Having a better chance of seeing deer etc. on the road would by itself make it worth it for I.


skreidle said...

Blue Brothers? I was thinking Corey Hart, myself. :)

On a Wing and a Whim said...

So, they'd ride the world of the evil, insidious horrors of light pollution?

I'll keep the streetlights, but I must admit I like the new LED streetlights that quietly emit lower-intensity blue light.

Otherwise, there's an entire world of awesome waiting to be unlocked with this. Nightglasses that could be slipped on to help you see things inside the fuselage without having to put down a part or tool to hold the flashlight? Rock on!

skreidle said...

I like the areas that have switched to shielded lights that keep all the light pointed down. Ground is still lit, sky is less light-polluted.

Anonymous said...

I need a little clarification. I understood conventional NVG to work by intensifying the existing available light. But there's also infrared vision, which picks up radiations too long to be seen by the human eye. I also see the terms used interchangeably. Are they the same, different, or other?


skreidle said...

Antibubba: They are both forms of night vision, but function differently in exactly the ways you described. The article mentions amplifying moonlight, but seems to focus on IR-to-visible conversion.

Anonymous said...

It gets a little blurry when you have a detector sensitive to the band between visible and near-IR; Oleg has a few such photos and they look black and white but aren't. Sort of. Pardon I while I scratch my head.