American’s special operators have long relied on night vision goggles to give them the upper hand in low-light combat environments, but there are some real drawbacks to relying on that sort of equipment when your life depends on it. From issues with depth perception and peripheral vision to concerns about how the gear rides on your head, it takes a long time to get accustomed to, and good at, fighting with night vision goggles on… but in the near future, those concerns may all be a thing of the past.
Scientists in both the United States and China have announced their successes in giving mice night vision using only an eye injection, and researchers have already claimed that they believe the same approach would work on humans. The American study, which was conducted at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, saw mice receiving an injection of nanoparticles that convert infrared light into visible light in their eyes. Those nanoparticles then bound with the photoreceptors of the mouse’s eyes, allowing each mouse to see in the dark for up to ten weeks. Most importantly, the mice didn’t seem to suffer any ill effect from the injection, even after the night vision had worn off.
Of course, there are still a number of obstacles to contend with between this discovery and Navy SEALs receiving night vision injections prior to deployment. The quality of the night vision, for instance, will need to be assessed through complex human trials and if the result shows that the injected night vision offers less clarity than existing head rigs, those head rigs will likely still win out. Further, with a ten-week half-life, some operators may need to undergo multiple injections per deployment, which could prove logistically and economically infeasible.
Then there’s the biggest concern: infection. Any injection or puncture of the eye opens up the possibility for infection, which could prove extremely dangerous for operators in the fight. Not only would the infection itself pose health concerns, but if it compromised the operator’s vision, it could get them killed.
If those challenges can be overcome, however, night vision injections could offer a number of huge advantages in today’s fight. Not only would concerns about peripheral vision and depth of field be a thing of the past, but operators could reduce the weight of their loadout by doing away with their night vision goggles and the batteries required to operate them. With some troops carrying more than a hundred pounds of gear on their back into the fight, every ounce counts.
“This might be a way to equip warriors with night vision directly, and because it is temporary, it might be less risky than permanent treatments such as genetically engineering warriors’ optical systems,” Arizona State University engineering professor Braden Allenby said.