Modern scientific breakthroughs have one amazing thing in common. Their transience and short lifespan are amazing and can be considered as a separate phenomenon. And the point is not that they are very quickly forgotten and go down in history. Not. We talk about how quickly these breakthroughs and discoveries become commonplace and are no longer able to cause us that feeling of admiration and take our breath away in the moments of realizing how much our life is now improving.
Think back to the short but incredible history of consumer music media. How quickly we moved from vinyl records to streaming services. Many of us had definitely caught the time when music was listened to in a reliable Walkman on audio cassettes. And, for sure, you also rewound these cassettes with a pencil, trying to save battery power. Now what? Today we listen to music via streaming services in the car, on the phone, or in the refrigerator. Moreover, we often use wireless headphones, which was very likely five years ago, but in the distant future. For now, try telling your kids how you listened to Nirvana's or Michael Jackson's songs with a pencil ...
But tell me, do you or your family members feel awe and admiration when choosing music on the road from the limitless library? Or, including a jogging playlist created by some guy living on the other side of the planet? Most likely, no.
Of course, if you think about it, then you will feel dizzy from how far civilization has gone lately and how quickly and deeply inventions have taken root in our everyday life. But, in fact, their charm is that we quickly enter into synergy with them, and they penetrate our daily life, forcing us to perceive ourselves as something that has always been around.
But, if you hear or read about a new product, about some invention that will further improve your favorite device, you will not forget about it. You will follow all the news about this and dream of the day when the novelty falls into your hands and changes your life. And it is difficult to blame you for this because this is a common feature for us. As people who constantly use such an achievement of science and engineering as night vision devices, we follow the research and innovations in this area very carefully. Today, we have something to tell you in the context of the news about ENVG-B.
A brief history of the night vision devices.
At the very beginning, let’s throw a brief sight to a history of this astonishing invention. The critical importance of night vision was understood and by everyone, not only the military and hunters. It just so happened that our body does not have mechanisms that enable us to fully identify objects at dusk or, even more so, in the darkness of the night. This has always been a problem of both survival and defense in later times.
It is surprising that we perfectly understand the mechanisms of night vision in animals. Humans have long tried to copy and apply them in practice. The framework of existing technologies has always stood in the way of such daring experiments. Indeed, if we take an ordinary domestic cat as an example, we can see a straightforward (in words) algorithm that allows it to hunt and navigate in the dark. Surely you also tracked the signs that allow you to understand how the cat sees.
In good lighting, cats' pupils narrow, which means they let in the least amount of light. As soon as the brightness decreases, the pupils increase in size, allowing the maximum amount of light signals to pass through. This light is amplified and processed thanks to mechanisms donated by nature, and the cat's brain receives a processed image of the environment, which allows you to navigate in it.
Even though we explain this superpower of pets in a very superficial and schematic way, you probably get a sense of where we are heading. Scientists did not need to come up with anything new. All decisions were in front of them. The task was straightforward: to copy existing possibilities, to repeat with the help of devices, what nature has invested in pets.
And so, such an opportunity appeared only in the 30s of the twentieth century. When, a Hungarian scientist created a night vision device prototype, which the London authorities tried to use to organize the city's protection from German bombing.
The practical foundation was laid by a group of Dutch scientists led by Holst, who worked at the Philips research center. The result of their work was the "Holst's glass" - the first-night vision device that has the properties of the devices we are used to. So that you understand how far technology has gone since then, you can buy a model of this "glass" and assemble it at home with your children. And in those, not so much distant times, the developed prototype quickly transformed into practical, cumbersome, and costly electrical devices, with which the army of Nazi Germany began to complete its equipment.
The development and improvement of precisely those first and primitive technologies were brought to a functional state during the Vietnam campaign. Perhaps, this conflict should be considered the beginning of the entry of night vision devices into the category accessible to civilians.
It should be understood that all modifications of night vision devices have been divided into four generations for convenience. Plus, the first devices were classified as the honorable, but now useless, "Generation 0".
Today we live in a period of transition from Generation 3 to Generation 4. All this is a very conditional division, and, not always, you will need devices of the most current generation. On the other hand, that industry development news, which we will discuss below, will definitely make you want the newest and most relevant device.
Prospects for the development of night vision technology.
Today, night vision devices are functional and practical. They are reliable and available to a wide range of consumers. Most importantly, these devices perform their tasks brilliantly. The market and leading manufacturers offer us the widest selection of devices of various configurations and types. You can find anything you want for any task. Night vision goggles, binoculars, monoculars, NV scopes - you will definitely find exactly what you need for your tasks. Regardless of whether you are a soldier or a hunter or want to watch birds.
In general, all these devices will satisfy your needs. But science is like a shark - if it stops, it dies. Therefore, scientists and engineers do not get tired of working on improvements and moving the technology forward.
Today several main directions are considered a priority for development. The first and, probably, the main thing, for a wide range of buyers, is to reduce the cost of components to reduce the price of finished products. Night vision devices are highly technological and complex devices, and their price cannot fall below the definite level. But I would like the price of the devices to be at least a little lower.
Reducing power consumption and increasing autonomy is also an essential aspect that thousands of the optical industry's best minds are working on. There is no need to explain anything here. We all want to squeeze the maximum out of the battery and be sure that during a long trek in the forest or the mountains, your equipment will reliably and predictably solve your problems.
And, the main problem is the elimination of the main drawback of any night vision device. The fact is that this technology has one significant drawback. The principle of operation of the device and the principle of operation of the cat's eye consists of the accumulation of light and its subsequent amplification and processing. If there is no light, then there will be no point in operating the device. Therefore, in the absence of light from the moon or other sources, you do not have many options. Either pack your device and remain blind or use infrared light as a light source. The problem is that this illumination is invisible to the naked eye, but it easily unmasks the observer using basic equipment.
The most obvious way out of this situation is to have additional thermal imaging devices in your arsenal. They do not depend on illumination since they are built on fixing heat signatures and have their own disadvantages that do not intersect with night vision devices' disadvantages. That is, these devices complement each other. A completely logical proposal arises: what if you combine these functions in one simple and functional device?
Many research groups and manufacturers were obsessed with creating something similar. After all, this, for sure, would be the next step in the development of technology. And finally, the Program Executive Office Soldier (PEO Soldier), Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team (SL-CFT), and Army Futures Command (AFC) have presented something that can level all the shortcomings of night vision devices.
Enhanced night vision goggles – binocular (ENVG-B) is the result of a rapid response to technology users' needs and, above all, the army. Today, such a technology development vector is optimal. From a global point of view, the proposed design will most likely complete the evolution of devices and direct manufacturers towards consolidating all efforts to reduce the cost of devices and increase their battery life.
What does this concept offer to the user and the military? The first thing that the manufacturer announces is stereoscopic displays with high resolution, which makes it possible to reduce the time for detecting objects and highlight them against the observation location background. Naturally, this is the result of observation using an advanced binocular system. According to the developers, the complexity of these and other solutions leads, among other things, to an improvement in the perception of the depth of the image and the volume of objects.
Also, the developers used white phosphor tubes in the design. We will dwell on this in more detail since there is a dispute about which image color is more ergonomic and best for the operator. Many people insist that green is the best option. It is less irritating to the eyes, consumes less energy, and the human brain can distinguish up to 400 shades of green. Opponents of this choice and adherents of the white color scheme, not without reason, insist that the white image is much more contrasting and informative. Besides, these devices use high-resolution tubes, which should potentially give excellent images.
Ergonomics, designed primarily for the military and designed for military tasks, also has several innovations and unique solutions. The equipment is also equipped with wireless technologies that allow communication with weapon sights and the sight reticle display. In general, it all looks like a recording of the gameplay from some kind of video game, and it is safe to say that the future has already come.
Perhaps the main advantage of the ENVG-B is the practical and promising symbiosis of night vision technology and a thermal imager. This is what we talked about in the previous section. With the correct, reliable, and correct operation of the device, it becomes the ultimate solution for the military and hunters. You get a thing that works under any conditions. Rain, moonless night, snow, fog - these are all eliminated as factors that affect your ability to see. The future belongs to such devices. And we still have a long and hard way to go, making such devices lightweight, with long battery life, and at the same time cheap.
There are problems with the last point. The army is the first and main consumer and beneficiary of such developments, and they do not save on them. And the moment such innovative products enter the civilian market will certainly be overshadowed by the device's highest price. The price may drop over time, but the baggage of high development costs will haunt the device for a very long time.
We cannot stop progress and should not even try to do so. Our main task is to closely monitor innovation and be prepared for the coming of the future. After all, everything that happens in science inevitably leads to the improvement of our life.