There is no question that night vision technology has revolutionized the way wars are fought, particularly among America’s special operations community. That said, anyone who’s been stuck wearing the sort of night vision goggles (NVGs) that find their way into the hands of conventional forces can attest that television rarely provides an accurate portrayal of how tough it can be to function with them strapped to your head.
The wearer must often adjust the focus of the goggles by hand, which means removing at least one hand from one’s weapon. It also means that without constant adjustments, one’s field of view lacks any real sense of depth. Aside from the constant need for adjustments, the wearer’s complete lack of peripheral vision (with the exception of the alien-looking L-3 setup used by special operators) makes night vision only slightly less dangerous than closing your eyes and hoping you don’t trip.
Of course, these problems aren’t because the technology for better night vision doesn’t exist; it’s simply a matter of making the technology more cost effective so conventional troops can get their hands on more capable gear for less money. The need just isn’t there for conventional troops to receive the latest and greatest in NVG tech, but with each advancement in this realm comes a reduction in cost for last year’s breakthroughs.
And let there be no mistake, there have been breakthroughs. Night vision has historically come in shades of green—that’s not a tech issue, but a human one. The human eye, adept as it is at interpreting reflected light as the world around us, can only register and process so much at once. Through extensive experimentation, shades of green proved to be easiest for the human eye to distinguish between, and as such, green was adopted as the monochrome color of choice for night vision tech. In truth, these goggles could display images in any color depending on how we built them—it would just limit our ability to interpret the images on the lens.
But what if we could do away with that monochrome idea altogether? After all, the human eye is great at picking out threats against a well-lit, daytime backdrop. That’s where SPi Infrared’s X28 night vision system comes in.
This video was recorded at around midnight, with no lighting beyond what can be seen in the distance:
Or how about this video of the beach, also taken in the middle of the night? When the camera pans up, you can see cloud cover with light stars behind it.
These images were recorded using SPi’s camera, which is not currently available as a wearable night vision rig, but as this technology continues to mature, it’s likely America’s special operations troops will soon enjoy the same level of detail and clarity during nighttime operations as they do during the day. As for the conventional side, chances are good they’ll be upgraded to something that keeps them from tripping over their own feet in the years to come, too.