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Feb 04, 2024 | 03:47 pm 249 0

Ergonomics of night vision devices and thermal imagers. The history of case design and the future of their development.

Ergonomics of night vision devices and thermal imagers. The history of case design and the future of their development.

Modern technologies have quickly integrated into our daily lives and become an integral part of it. What was popular and widely used a few decades ago has been forgotten; today, only some people even remember the appearance of the devices of the past. This task will become complicated for thermal imagers and night optics. These devices were previously used exclusively by military personnel, so many ordinary people do not even realize how unique the case design of the models of the 40s, 50s, and all subsequent years was. We decided to delve a little into history and recreate the evolution of the appearance of optics, as well as study the critical engineering solutions that made it possible to achieve excellent ergonomics of modern devices. You will find out whether we managed to cope with this task by reading our article.

Essential factors of night optics’ ergonomics

Before starting to study the history of case design of various types of night optics, it is necessary to determine the key factors that enable such devices to become leaders in terms of ergonomics. The main one is the user's comfort while holding the optics. It is achieved by creating a unique body shape, which engineers carefully develop and test many times. This development aims to create devices that fit comfortably in the hand without falling out, even when making sudden movements. Another critical factor that can partially influence user comfort is the correct balance of night optics. In its selection, dozens of components are considered, starting from the position of a person’s fingers during the operation of the device (relative to the central point) and ending with the distribution of components inside the case. If you miss at least one of them, then a specific imbalance will be observed, which will cause the user’s hands to tire or cause discomfort while performing particular actions quickly.

When creating ergonomic night optics, engineers must pay attention to factors such as device size and weight. Huge dimensions will make the operation process uncomfortable, and tiny ones will lead to problems with control and selection of settings (errors will occur when pressing small buttons). The device's weight is selected depending on the mass of all components and their distribution inside the case. If necessary (to achieve the right balance), manufacturers slightly modify the appearance, adding or removing various structural elements. Also, the target audience's characteristics are considered in forming the final weight of a thermal imager and night vision device. If the manufactured devices are intended for physically military solid personnel, manufacturers can slightly increase the weight without discomforting users. At the same time, models for ordinary people are created relatively light. This will make them suitable for users who need more physical strength. An additional factor influencing the ergonomics of night optics is the method of mounting the device. It is relevant for night vision sights mounted on weapons and models of other types (fixed on a tripod). In each case, it is essential that the optimal mounting option is chosen, which will not create an imbalance, will not disrupt the ergonomics of the weapon (if we are talking about sights), and will not lead to control problems.

Important development milestones of night optics’ ergonomics

From 1940 to 1970

All listed factors affecting the ergonomics of night vision devices are characteristic of modern devices. During the evolution of case design, they were also taken into account by engineers, and based on these data, a new appearance of night optics was formed each time. The whole transformation process started in the 40s of the last century. It was during this period that the first night vision devices appeared. They were much more significant than modern models and weighed tens of kilograms. Their design included several separate units, which were transported by trucks and combined into a single unit at the operation site. Naturally, in those days, no one thought about ergonomics and ease of use of optics. However, it was this device that became the basis for further modernization of equipment and adjustments to the cabinet design. Engineers significantly reduced the devices' size a few years later, making their operation more comfortable. By the mid-40s, night vision devices looked similar to the models of our time.

Nevertheless, they could have been much better regarding characteristics and functionality. The body of such devices was made to be placed on various military equipment. It was created considering the design of combat vehicles and some other aspects. For example, the models installed on tanks were made so that their hulls did not block the view, did not unmask the equipment, and did not impair its maneuverability. Engineers were only sometimes able to achieve the desired results. Many developments were rejected at the testing stage, but this was considered the norm. Substantial financial investments and the collective work of hundreds of talented engineers ultimately led to the creation of more or less ergonomic night vision devices that could be used on the battlefield.

In the 50s of the last century, the Americans picked up the idea of ​​creating night optics. They took existing devices as a basis and created their version of NVD. It turned out to be of sufficient quality, which made it possible to develop this direction further. The devices produced in the 60s had relatively small dimensions, making using them on military equipment and soldiers’ weapons possible. The most popular at that time were the sights the Americans installed on slightly modified M16 rifles. They performed well in Vietnam and in other armed conflicts of that time. The body of such optics was made of simple and affordable materials. Few people paid attention to its strength and protection from various external influences, so this structural element was quite fragile. Because of this, soldiers had to use night optics with extreme caution so as not to damage the expensive device. The appearance of the 60s models was approximately the same as their modern counterparts. The only difference was the oversized dimensions, which did not allow the soldiers to aim and fire comfortably. Attaching night optics to weapons used at that time was also far from ideal, which caused specific difficulties during operations.

From 1970 to 2000

In the 70s, a new generation of devices appeared, sometimes used today. These devices have become a close analog of modern night optics. If, in terms of characteristics and functionality, they were inferior to the devices available today, then there were practically no differences in appearance. The dimensions of the 70s models were different. There were standard military scopes and binoculars. They were considerably smaller, explained by improved characteristics and more excellent capabilities. Miniature night vision sights were also produced, intended exclusively for sniper shooting. These devices were elementary to use. They were distinguished by outstanding balance, which eliminated the discomfort of shooters while aiming and pulling the trigger. The methods to attach such sights to weapons could have been better, but they were considered the best option then. Also, the ergonomics of models of the 70s were influenced by using more advanced materials in production. They made the optics body lighter, durable, and protected from external influences.

Over the next 20 years, there were minor changes in the body design, characteristics, and functionality of night vision devices. Only in the late 90s did the third-generation models appear, which are the most popular. They are actively used not only by military personnel but also by civilians. In such optics, manufacturers paid great attention to ergonomics. The devices produced became more convenient to use every year. All of them fit comfortably in the hand, are easily attached to a weapon or tripod, and have a well-balanced design and optimal weight. All these factors have positively impacted the popularity of night optics. It began to be used even in those areas of activity where previously they used more outdated equipment. The housing of such devices began to be developed more carefully. Various versions of it went through many stages of testing before being approved. This made it possible to achieve ideal ergonomics at that time and make almost all types of night optics as convenient to use as possible. In addition, the case has become even more durable and protected from external influences. This increased the service life of each model and reduced the frequency of repairs (for example, replacing a failed component).

From 2000 to the present day

In the 21st century, night vision devices continued to change their appearance. The changes were not so global that discussing them would take a long time. However, modern devices have become more compact, lightweight, and adapted for long-term use. The case of some models is made of innovative materials that have increased strength and wear resistance. As night vision technology improves, changes in optics design occur. This leads to the need to make certain adjustments to the shape and size of the case. In this case, manufacturers consider the introduced innovations and users' wishes. This is how unique night vision devices appear, made to order (for example, for the needs of a specific military unit or representatives of a particular civilian profession). This becomes a catalyst for the development of cabinet design and gives grounds to make grandiose plans for the future.

Important development milestones of thermal imaging optics’ ergonomics

Before 1960

As for thermal imagers, they have their history, during which the appearance of the devices has undergone numerous changes. The appearance of such night optics became possible thanks to various discoveries made long before the term “thermal imaging” was introduced into the lexicon. They were carried out from the end of the 17th century and continued until the 20s of the last century. At this time, the first thermal imager, or rather equipment that skillfully captured thermal waves and, based on them, formed an image visible to humans, was created. Naturally, such a development was intended exclusively for the military. Because of this, little is known about her today. From the available information, it can be emphasized that the first thermal imager was quite large. It consisted of several separate devices combined into a standard system. The finished image was displayed on a monitor you always had to carry. Due to its impressive dimensions and considerable weight, such a thermal imaging device was used exclusively in places where it did not need to be moved frequently (for example, the first models were used to protect the state border and detect attempts to cross it illegally).

In the 30s, devices that were equipped with special receivers were invented. The latter were sensitive to thermal energy and could capture it better than the first models of thermal imagers. Such receivers were introduced into existing devices, which made it possible to reduce the size of the entire structure slightly. These changes were not revolutionary, so work on equipment modernization continued, and its pace increased. A few years later, engineers created thermal imaging cameras for military use. They were kept secret and used only when necessary. Over the following decades, this equipment was modernized, and attempts to create new, more advanced devices continued. All actions related to thermal imaging equipment were kept private, so very little information about them has been preserved.

From 1960 to 1980

Thermal imaging cameras were only officially introduced in the 60s of the last century, and ordinary people learned about their existence. These devices were similar to the models of 30 years ago, which indicated a certain stagnation in this direction. The appearance of these cameras has also remained virtually unchanged. They became a little more compact, but the equipment needed to display the image on the screen remained just as bulky. In addition, thermal imaging equipment of that time required a lot of energy to operate, which is why it was forced to be powered by the mains or powerful generators.

In the late 60s and early 70s, a famous Swedish optics manufacturer presented its version of a thermal imager. Externally, this device resembled a telescope and was quite large. It also needed constant cooling, so it was equipped with an equally sizeable cooling unit. A few years later, the Americans made it possible to use batteries as a power source for a thermal imager. This event marked the beginning of a new stage in developing devices and made it possible to make them portable. Despite the excellent engineering solution, the American model continued to require additional equipment, which made it impractical to talk about the ease of use of such optics. Only in the late 70s was it possible to construct a thermal imager without auxiliary devices.

Moreover, American engineers, namely those who came up with another revolutionary invention, could add to thermal imagers the function of capturing images on film. This allowed me not only to see the thermal image but also to take photographs. This device was relatively compact and similar in appearance to modern models. Its body was made of the simplest materials and quite fragile. Also, the inventors should have considered such aspects as correct balance and ease of placement in the user's hand and neglected other ergonomics principles. In this regard, using thermal imagers of the 70s could have been more convenient.

From 1980 to the present day

The following two decades were spent improving the performance and capabilities of thermal imagers. In parallel with this, the attitude towards the case design of manufactured devices also changed. Now that thermal imaging optics have become available to civilians, their manufacturers have begun to pay a lot of attention to ergonomics. Thanks to this, the body of most devices has been adapted to the characteristics of users’ hands. This, in turn, simplified the process of holding thermal imagers in hands and reduced discomfort during their operation. In addition, the created models have become better balanced. This reduced the strain on the user's hands and made it possible to use the optics continuously for an extended period. At the same time, the size and weight of the equipment changed. The models sold to civilians became as compact and lightweight as possible, greatly simplifying the storage and transportation process. In the 21st century, thermal imagers have become even more advanced. They have turned into multifunctional devices where the housing reliably protects the internal parts from mechanical damage, moisture, dust, and other external factors. Today, such optics are always distinguished by an ergonomic design, which takes into account all key aspects, as well as the wishes of the users.

Future of the night optics and thermal vision ergonomics

Throughout history, thermal imagers and night vision devices have undergone many transformations. This circumstance leaves no doubt that this will continue. Soon, we will see fantastic new inventions that will change our understanding of modern technology. The case design of manufactured devices will also change. Adjustments made by manufacturers will depend on changes in the optics design itself. Thermal imagers and NVDs are expected to become smaller and lighter over the next few years. This will lead to the need to make specific changes to the body's shape. It will adapt to new options for holding devices in hands (due to its smaller size and weight, night optics will have to be held not with the whole hand but with only a few fingers). Another direction in modernizing the appearance will be changing the composition of the materials from which the body will be made. This will entail various weight changes, which is why manufacturers will have to re-balance the optics. For this purpose, minor adjustments will likely be made to the body's shape, so thermal imagers and night vision devices will look slightly different from their predecessors. Global changes in case design are not excluded, but this will require unique, innovative solutions that can change such devices' very principle of operation.

The night optics that exist today are universal and multifunctional. However, the peak of development in this direction has yet to be reached. Shortly, models that can cope with dozens of different tasks will appear. Some of them will be things we can't even think about today. Universalization and expansion of functionality may entail various changes in the body design of night optics. They may be due to introducing new parts into the design, adapting devices to users' unique needs, adjusting the principle of operation, and many other factors. Most likely, in each case, changes in appearance will be minimal, but it will be impossible to avoid the need for them.

If we look far into the future, the ability to see in the dark will be available to people without any devices. Already, work is underway to develop unique compounds that can change the nature of the human eye and give it the option of night vision. If this happens, thermal imagers and NVDs will be used only as auxiliary equipment. This will inevitably lead to changes in their body design, construction, and operating principles. However, we are not discussing eliminating night optics, so they will continue to benefit humanity for many decades. In addition, engineers are attempting to create microscopic devices that could theoretically be implanted into the human visual system. These devices will help you process incoming visual information in a new way and be able to see it, usually even in shallow light conditions. If the development of night vision follows this scenario, then the body design of the devices will undergo dramatic changes. The minimal dimensions of implantable devices will completely change our understanding of night optics and their appearance.

Ergonomics is one of the critical factors affecting the ease of use of thermal imagers and night vision devices. In this regard, throughout the history of such optics, engineers have changed the design and shape of the case, seeking to minimize weight, simplify mounting methods, and increase the comfort of users holding a particular device in their hand. Their work became the basis for the formation of modern night optics, which today is considered the standard in terms of ergonomics. However, technology development continues for a second, so shortly, we will see new changes in the design of devices. This will make them even more convenient and allow maximum pleasure from the operating process.

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