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Thermal imaging and night vision appeared less than 100 years ago. Despite such a short period, they achieved enormous progress and became indispensable to humans. However, recently, there has been an active debate about the future of these technologies. Some experts point out that the peak of development has already been reached, and further changes will be insignificant. In contrast, others argue that a certain calm is a harbinger of a significant breakthrough in the coming years. Both opinions are worthy of attention, so we decided to determine which one is closer to the truth. If you are interested in this topic, sit back and read our guide.
Night vision can easily be called one of the most significant inventions of the last century. It appeared in the 40s of the last century and went through many stages of development before it became what we know today. This technology fits perfectly into our daily lives and has become indispensable for most people. To understand how promising it is, you must first consider all the features of night vision and find out how it helps humanity cope with various tasks. After this, highlight the most promising areas of development and pay attention to exciting developments that may change our understanding of this technology.
Night vision devices are complex mechanisms that contain many structural elements. They all perform their function and enable optics to form an image visible to humans. Despite the large number of different parts, the operating principle of night vision devices is quite simple. Not only specialists but also ordinary users will be able to understand it.
The whole process starts with the lens. It does the most challenging job of capturing the available light at night. Various objects can create such light in the night sky or by artificial light sources located far from the coverage area of the optics. Regardless of the light source, its rays fall on objects surrounding the user, are reflected from them, and are directed into the device's lens. This natural process is one of the main ones since the more light is collected, the better the result. The “caught” light rays are focused and redirected into the electron-optical converter. It is the central figure of any night vision device, amplifying the light. There are three main generations of such converters and several intermediate ones. They all have their characteristics and have specific capabilities. Nowadays, second and third-generation models are used.
Entering the electron-optical converter, the light flux is divided into electrons. They are subjected to specific external influences, which make it possible to increase the speed of movement of microscopic particles significantly. Due to the accelerated motion, there is a sharp increase in the number of electrons. This process takes a minimum of time but is an essential step towards forming the final image. In slightly outdated night vision devices, this work is performed by a unique photomultiplier tube. New generation models replace it with a working element based on gallium arsenide. Moving further, the electrons hit the luminescent anode, supplied with a small electrical charge. Due to this, particles such as photons are released from the flow of electrons. They are significantly enhanced compared to the original ones, becoming the ideal “material” for forming an image visible to humans. The stream of photons is directed to the eyepiece, where several manipulations turn it into an image visible to the human eye.
Nowadays, night vision technologies are indispensable when performing many tasks of varying degrees of complexity. The devices produced are distinguished by their versatility, practicality, and efficiency, expanding their scope of application daily. This process has been going on for quite a long time, but it still needs to be completed.
Night vision is most often used in the military industry. This is not unusual since this technology was initially created specifically for the needs of military personnel. In the past, various devices helped navigate the dark and conduct combat operations in low-light conditions. Today, such optics are found in many other applications. The devices available to soldiers of various units perform well during reconnaissance activities. They allow you to observe the enemy and obtain necessary information quietly. Such optics will no less benefit the Marine Corps, Army, Navy, and Air Force. Even modern military equipment cannot do without night vision devices. They greatly simplify the control process in the dark and make it possible to navigate the terrain and conduct targeted shooting at various enemy targets.
Night technologies play a huge role in rescuers' work. These people often remain in the shadows, but their heroism in carrying out their duties should never be forgotten. Rescuers actively use a variety of night optics. With its help, it is possible, even in the absence of standard lighting, to carry out search work over a large area, clear away rubble (for example, after an earthquake or explosion), study the condition of various emergency and partially destroyed objects, and also perform many other tasks. Without night optics, such work could be carried out exclusively during the day, significantly reducing the chances of saving the maximum possible number of injured people.
Night vision is no less beneficial in security activities. If in the past it was used exclusively at the most critical sites (for example, secret military bases, warehouses with ammunition, and expensive resources), today this technology is used almost everywhere. Thanks to its capabilities, it simplifies the work of security guards who monitor the territory of various enterprises, protect infrastructure facilities, and prevent unauthorized persons from entering warehouses, product storage facilities, and other similar places. Very often, cameras with night vision functions are used for security. They help security guards remotely monitor the situation at night and, if necessary, take the prescribed measures.
Night vision is gradually becoming indispensable for drivers of various vehicles. It is often actively used in the control system of modern cars. With its help, it is possible to simplify the task of the driver who often drives in the dark. In addition, night technologies are becoming an essential component of various agricultural machinery. Thanks to its capabilities, it can conduct round-the-clock work in the fields without losing the efficiency of performing specific tasks at night. In cases where cars and other vehicles cannot be equipped with night vision systems, drivers often use NV glasses. They provide good visibility, thereby increasing road safety.
There is also a place for night vision in military and civil aviation. It is used on almost all aircraft that legally carry out certain flights. The most modern models of various devices are installed on the fuselage of military airplanes and helicopters and in their cockpits. They are intended to simplify flights at night and increase their safety. A variety of night vision systems are also indispensable for civil aviation pilots. They help control every stage of flight and monitor conditions around the aircraft. Night vision is most useful during takeoff and landing. With its help, all obstacles (power lines, multi-story buildings, etc.), markings on the runway, and the location of other aircraft/helicopters become visible to the pilot. Cameras installed on unmanned aerial vehicles are also equipped with night vision. These devices are used in dozens of tasks, from military surveillance to night photography of various outdoor events.
Night vision has benefited science for many years. It is used in different directions and plays a vital role everywhere. Most often, night technologies can be found in zoology. With their help, scientists monitor various nocturnal animals, discover previously unknown species, and assess the general condition of the fauna in a particular area. Also, unique models of night vision devices become useful when studying lake, river, and sea life. These optics have increased protection from water, so they work as efficiently as on land. In addition to zoology, night technologies are actively used in areas related to wildlife and chemistry, physics, astronomy, and other sciences.
Hiking enthusiasts also find many uses for night vision. This is especially true for people who make long hikes and spend one or more nights in nature. Night optics will become as important an item as a knife, matches, or food. It will make it possible to carry out any work from dusk to dawn when natural light is not enough for the human eye. In addition to arranging a place to stay for the night, with the help of modern optics, it will be possible to find the necessary plant materials, berries, nuts, and fruits in the dark. Also, the ability to see at night will allow you to choose the right direction of movement, protect your overnight stay from uninvited guests, and do a lot of other work.
Very often, builders have to use night vision devices. This is explained by the need to conduct round-the-clock work on-site to reduce construction time. While performing various night shift tasks, construction workers will need quality optics that can work effectively in low-light conditions. It will enable everyone to do this or that job well and increase their safety (when using new optics, the risk of accidents becomes minimal).
Night hunting and fishing are popular pastimes that would not be possible without NV optics. It allows everyone to see generally in the dark and freely do what they love. When hunting, night vision helps find animals, observe them, and determine their species, gender, and size. Also, modern optics simplify the aiming process and allow you to get a trophy with minimal ammunition expenditure. When fishing, night vision devices will help you find the optimal place for fishing. They will also allow you to monitor your gear even in poorly lit areas and take advantage of every bite. Other popular activities that can benefit from night vision include airsoft and paintball. In cases where these games are played in the dark, NV optics will be the key to the entire team's success. Various binoculars, monoculars, scopes, and cameras will help diversify your usual activity and make it even more exciting.
Having paid attention to the principle of operation of night vision devices and how to use the capabilities of the technology, we can begin to discuss the most critical areas of development. All of them are pretty promising, so shortly, they can take night vision to a new, highest possible level. If specialists bring all their ideas into reality, this will be a real breakthrough and a full-fledged new stage in technology development.
Promising areas of development:
Only some people know that developments in the field of night vision are being carried out quite actively. Nowadays, this process is gradually accelerating, leading to many studies aimed at improving existing devices and modernizing the technology itself. In this regard, anyone for whom night vision is of interest should familiarize themselves with current work in this area. This will make it possible to understand the prospects of the technology and assess the chances of obtaining something genuinely unique shortly.
The most exciting and potentially helpful development, based on night vision, is a robot policeman. Engineers from many countries worldwide are creating their own versions of this device, each of which can already be used today to perform specific tasks. Naturally, robots are not yet trusted with the most critical work, but this will be possible. Nowadays, the most famous robot police are models from the UAE, India, China, USA, Israel, and Congo. These developments are actively used in the listed countries, and their influence on police work gradually increases.
In all cases, the robots are equipped with exceptional night vision devices, the operation of which is adapted to perform 1-2 specific tasks. New functions are gradually being added to them, but this process takes quite a lot of time. With the help of modern developments in the field of night vision, police robots are engaged in round-the-clock traffic control on the busiest sections of the road, informing tourists and residents about various crimes, accepting requests for committed offenses, patrolling the streets, scanning the faces of passing people and searching for wanted criminals among them, as well as many other things.
A promising development that initially seems impossible is to augment the human eye with the ability to see in the dark without using any night vision equipment. It has been going on for quite some time, but so far, the desired results have only been achieved with the vision of rodents. Testing has yet to be carried out on humans, but scientists plan to implement this stage of their project. According to research, there are three ways to give a person the ability to see at night. The first of these is the compaction of the DNA chain in the photoreceptor cells of the peripheral processes of the retina's light-sensitive cells. Theoretically, such actions will lead to a decrease in the percentage of scattered light and an increase in the transparency of the retina. The consequence will be a noticeable improvement in night vision for any person. This method has been tested on animals and has proven effective many times. However, in the situation with human vision, everything may be different, so scientists need additional time to conduct various studies. According to experts, the second way to supplement human eyes with night vision is to introduce special microscopic devices into the visual system. With their help, it will be possible to qualitatively convert infrared radiation into light that the human eye can see. This can have a good effect, but the likelihood of various negative consequences for the visual system makes it necessary to postpone testing on humans constantly.
The third method is closest to being translated into reality, allowing a person to see in the dark. It uses a unique transparent material that will be injected into the eyes and can convert infrared radiation into light waves visible to people. To create it, scientists used nanotechnology, which allowed them to obtain a unique composition that included microscopic amounts of various chemical elements. Their combination will enable you to achieve the desired effect and potentially not harm the organs of vision. After many studies, such material began to be injected into animals' eyes. Testing on rodents demonstrated the effectiveness of the created substance and proved its ability to provide humans with night vision. However, they have not yet decided to introduce the nanomaterial they made into people’s eyes. Numerous studies are currently being conducted to help scientists understand the consequences of such injections and determine the feasibility of further work on the project. Despite the long process, sooner or later, scientists will decide to conduct testing on humans. If the results are positive, this will mark a new stage in the history of night vision.
A night vision system is one of the most anticipated developments, which will help create full-fledged unmanned vehicles shortly. Existing cars of this type today could be better. They sometimes do the wrong things, so using them to travel around the city is quite dangerous. This is especially true at night when the likelihood of accidents increases often. Modern night vision systems are being developed to eliminate this problem. They are embedded in the operation of controls, where they act as an observer. When various objects, other cars, and pedestrians appear in the field of view of the night optics, the braking system will be activated. This will enable the vehicle to slow down and avoid a collision quickly.
The existing night vision system used for driving a car includes a variety of devices and sensors. All of them are located on the radiator grille and other structural elements. Their work gives the self-driving car's computer access to bright, clear, and detailed images. It makes it easy to distinguish other road users, people, animals, and various obstacles along the way. In cases where natural light is not enough to form a high-quality image, IR illumination comes into play. It helps correct the situation and achieve the desired result. This type of night vision system operation is only sometimes effective. For example, in unfavorable weather, the image quality will still be relatively poor, which may cause incorrect decisions, leading to emergencies. In this regard, various studies are being carried out, which will help make the operation of night vision systems the same under any operating conditions. This will positively impact the safety of self-driving cars and make their behavior on the road more predictable.
Nowadays, the use of artificial intelligence has become fashionable. It is being introduced into various areas of activity, often with little need to do so. This leads to the complication of all processes and the appearance of previously absent shortcomings. There is no such problem with night vision technology. Gradually introducing artificial intelligence into the operation of NV devices brings many benefits and becomes the basis for new, unique developments. Among the latter, special mention should be made of the project being implemented today. It uses artificial intelligence to improve the quality of the image displayed on the display of night vision devices. A positive effect is achieved through additional image processing. It makes it possible to eliminate some defects and carefully disguise others. The effectiveness of using artificial intelligence for this work is beyond doubt, so very soon, night optics can provide users with images of the highest possible quality.
If this development successfully passes testing, its implementation in NVDs will be rapid. The updated optics will give users high clarity and good detail in each image. This will positively impact the quality of various work performed in the dark. At the same time, using the capabilities of artificial intelligence will create specific problems in equipment operation, which its manufacturers will have to deal with. The main one will be an increase in the time spent on data processing so that the image will be displayed on the display with an unavoidable delay. Also, using artificial intelligence will slightly increase the cost of night optics and make it inaccessible to some users. In theory, all these problems can be fixed, but it will take some time. Therefore, we should expect the mass release of NVDs with artificial intelligence in a few years.
Thermal imaging is considered one of the most popular phenomena in our world. It was formed relatively recently as an independent technology, but developments in this area have been going on for a long time. Today, thermal imaging is considered a promising area that receives much attention. Before considering the most exciting developments, it is necessary to understand all the technology features, study how it is used today, and highlight the most critical aspects that will be improved shortly.
For many people who actively use thermal imaging equipment, this technology's operation principle remains a mystery. This prevents users from better understanding how different devices work and getting the most out of their capabilities. To fill this information gap, it is necessary to consider the operating principle of thermal imaging equipment, which is identical for all types of such optics.
The whole process starts with the lens. This design element is considered essential for any optics, but it is in thermal imagers that it performs the most significant amount of work. The lens captures infrared radiation emanating from various living and nonliving objects. This only happens when the IR light source is within range of the used device. If the thing is located outside of it, then even intense radiation will not allow optics to detect it in the dark. After the lens collects sufficient IR light, the latter is focused and transmitted to particular infrared detectors. These design elements have increased sensitivity, thanks to which they can recognize even feeble IR radiation. This makes forming a higher quality and more accurate thermal image possible.
Through various transformations, infrared radiation is converted by the device into a thermogram. It makes it possible to obtain information about the degree of heating of a particular territory area and the objects on it. This data becomes the basis for forming a thermal image, which will later be available to the user for viewing. Before this, the existing thermogram is subjected to various influences, which makes it possible to convert it into electrical impulses. They are redirected to the electronic system of the thermal imager, where their further transformation occurs. Such actions result in an image that the user can see. It is transmitted to the optics display and supplemented with various helpful information. Thanks to a thermal picture, it is possible to see all heated objects that fall within the range of the thermal imager. Moreover, the user can see the degree of heating in each area. This is achieved using shades in the image and coloring areas with a particular temperature.
The discovery of thermal imaging became a landmark event for the whole world. Initially, this technology was used exclusively for military purposes, but it became available to civilians after some time. This opened up new opportunities for humanity, the boundaries of which we still do not see. The gradual development of technology has made it in demand among representatives of various professions. With its help, they began to do many complex, effective, and sometimes even dangerous work previously considered impossible.
As mentioned earlier, thermal imaging was intended for the military from the first days of its existence. Gradually, it became available to ordinary people, but this did not diminish its popularity in various military units. Today, it is used almost everywhere where night combat operations or training are carried out. Thermal imaging is in demand due to its ability to show hidden soldiers and camouflaged enemy equipment. These enabled military personnel to increase the effectiveness of defensive and offensive actions. Also, the capabilities of this technology have become indispensable in reconnaissance activities and when performing various maneuvers using military equipment. Thermal imaging is used by everyone from the Marine Corps to the Air Force. It brings many benefits and allows you to improve the execution of any tasks set by the command.
As with night vision, thermal imaging is in demand among rescuers. Its ability to detect heat has made it indispensable during search operations. With its help, it is possible to find people quickly in complete darkness and where they are behind various obstacles (for example, behind bushes). Thermal imaging proves its effectiveness during the elimination of large fires. It allows rescuers to find sources of fire and also locate injured people. All of the above makes thermal imagers indispensable devices that help save hundreds of human lives daily. Thermal imaging optics are popular among police officers. It is used to achieve many purposes, from searching for a criminal during a pursuit to monitoring people during various public events. In some cases, thermal imaging helps police solve serious crimes and find the culprit among dozens of suspects.
Thermal imaging technologies are indispensable in such an important industry as medicine. Based on them, various diagnostic equipment is created that makes it possible to identify many dangerous diseases in the early stages of their formation. Thermal imaging is also used in non-contact thermometers, which allow you to measure the temperature of a person’s body without the need to touch it. These devices have been familiar not only during the COVID-19 era but also after the end of the pandemic. Thermal imaging also brings many benefits in a related industry – veterinary medicine. It is used in special diagnostic equipment that determines the health status of large animals (for example, cows, horses, elephants, and others). The results are pretty accurate and become the basis for diagnosis.
Thermal imagers will come in handy for lovers of hunting and hiking. With their help, hunters can quickly find well-camouflaged animals that can become good trophies. You will also be able to promptly identify dangerous predator encounters with which it is best to avoid. Hiking enthusiasts can see their hobby colleagues' location on a cloudy night using thermal imaging. This will make it possible to avoid various troubles and prevent the loss of one of the participants in the campaign. In addition, thermal imagers will help detect and identify approaching fauna.
In combination with night vision, thermal imaging is actively used in civil aviation. It helps pilots navigate space, perform complex maneuvers in poor visibility conditions, and safely perform takeoffs and landings. In addition, thermal imaging equipment allows people who maintain aircraft to perform their jobs. Using special devices, they study the condition of the aircraft/helicopter skin, finding various defects (problem areas heat up more). In the same way, the condition of the wiring and different structural elements of the aircraft is assessed. Without thermal imaging, it won't be easy to perform such work. Because of this, the chance of making a mistake that will lead to disaster is relatively high.
Modern science could only develop as quickly as it does now with the ability to use thermal imaging technologies. They bring benefits in various fields, from zoology to chemistry. Using thermal imaging, scientists can quickly detect animal species of interest in the dark, monitor the progress of specific chemical reactions, conduct unique experiments with infrared radiation, and much more. In all cases, this technology will improve the efficiency of the work performed and speed up achieving the desired results. Thermal imaging is also in demand in various industries. In metallurgy, it is used to control the degree of heating of workpieces, monitor the temperature of the metal, and assess the condition of the heat-insulating layer of furnaces. Thanks to this technology, components of various machines, presses, and other equipment that overheat during operation are quickly identified in mechanical engineering. In addition, specialists measure the temperature of the workpieces being processed. In the chemical industry, thermal imaging makes monitoring the condition of various substances possible, thereby preventing uncontrolled processes that can harm people, enterprises, and the region's ecology.
The realities of our time are such that today, even in sports, it is only possible to do with thermal imaging technologies. This may be a discovery for many, but thermal imagers have been helping judges monitor various competitions for quite a long time. Most often, such devices can be found in motorsports. Here, they help control many parameters of racing cars related to the degree of heating of a particular mechanism. Thermal imaging plays approximately the same role in motorcycle racing. In cycling, various equipment helps judges inspect athletes' bicycles and find structural elements prohibited by the rules (for example, small engines that are carefully camouflaged and allow the cyclist to expend less effort over distances).
Now is the time to talk more about the prospects for thermal imaging. Some experts point to a particular pause in the development of this technology, remembering many modern developments and research that will help make a qualitative leap. To dispel your doubts about the prospects of thermal imaging, we suggest that you familiarize yourself with the main areas where the main work will be carried out now and soon.
Promising areas of development:
Work to improve thermal imaging continues for a minute. Many studies in this area and promising developments are classified and become available to the public only after a specific time. However, we can evaluate the prospects for thermal imaging based on the information available about the work being done. Even this will be enough to understand the attractiveness of the technology and its bright future.
The most promising development in thermal imaging is special thermal imaging equipment used for medical diagnostic activities. It helps doctors record infrared radiation from the human body and compare the data obtained with generally accepted standards. The presence of any abnormalities will indicate the presence of various pathologies in the body in the early stages of their development. Thanks to this, it will be possible to begin treatment, thereby increasing the likelihood of a quick recovery for the patient. Such equipment is equipped not with standard thermal imagers but with improved ones. They are distinguished by increased sensor sensitivity, which allows them to detect even minor changes in the intensity of infrared radiation emanating from a person. Also, medical models used in our time can boast of higher accuracy of results. In this regard, the likelihood of an error occurring during the diagnostic process is minimized.
Medical equipment, based on the latest developments in the field of thermal imaging, helps diagnose most infectious, oncological, and skin diseases, as well as problems with joints, bones, and muscles. In addition, thermal imaging makes it possible to identify some symptoms of diabetes, respiratory tract diseases, digestive, lymphatic, reproductive, and urinary systems. Successful testing of such devices has made thermal imaging an essential part of medicine. Today, research in this direction continues actively, so many discoveries can be expected shortly.
Another exciting development related to thermal imaging is the vehicle control system. It is slightly different from the one that uses classic night vision, but they still have much in common. They are sometimes combined to create a more universal system that can work effectively under external conditions. Models with thermal imaging consist of several individual devices interconnected. They all scan the space in front of the car and find various heated objects against the background of a colder road. They may be pedestrians or working structural elements of other vehicles. The received data is transmitted to the driver or computer (in self-driving cars) for further decision-making.
Modern thermal imaging systems sometimes fail. This happens in cases where various obstacles with a lower temperature appear on the road (for example, stones, trees that have fallen on the road, etc.). Their heating degree is practically the same as the road's, so it is difficult for the driver or computer to distinguish them from the general background. Work to correct this problem is already underway. It is expected that thermal imaging devices with the highest possible sensitivity will be used to identify low-heat objects. They can detect even minor temperature fluctuations, quickly identifying various obstacles in the vehicle’s path. At the same time, increased sensitivity can lead to other problems, so specialists must work hard to find the optimal solution for this situation.
Recently, much research has been carried out in quantum technologies, which could be used in thermal imaging. In particular, specialists from around the world are working on the creation of a so-called quantum well-infrared photodetector. It is a reasonably simple but well-functioning invention that can create conditions under which a thermal imager can equally effectively detect mid-wave and long-wave infrared radiation. Due to its quantum limitations, this photodetector has increased sensitivity and starts a minimum of defects that can degrade the quality of the final image. Theoretically, this will enable thermal imaging equipment to capture even feeble infrared radiation and process it with the highest possible accuracy.
Suppose the work on creating and implementing the quantum well-infrared photodetector in thermal imaging devices is booming. In that case, the updated equipment will increase the efficiency of various types of work. This will positively affect security activities in conditions of minimal or zero illumination and will also help military personnel, rescuers, doctors, scientists, and industrial workers cope with many complex tasks. Thanks to new photodetectors, more accurate thermal imagers will become available, which will be able to determine with minimal error the degree of heating of a particular area of the observed object. This development will be instrumental in medicine. With the help of updated diagnostic equipment using thermal imaging technologies, it will be possible to diagnose and identify many dangerous diseases more accurately in the first days of their occurrence.
After the full implementation of quantum well-infrared photodetector thermal imaging equipment, there is a high probability of creating more universal devices for ordinary users. These optics will make it possible to obtain the highest quality thermal image of the surrounding area. Thanks to this, it will be actively used by hunters, fishermen, lovers of hiking, and wildlife observation. Naturally, such a development will bring many benefits to military personnel. With its help, various ground forces units will be able to more accurately determine the location of hidden opponents and their equipment and conduct combat operations in conditions of zero visibility. For Air Force representatives, the new development will help improve the safety of flights and simplify the process of controlling manned aircraft.
Thermal imaging and night vision have a relatively short history, so there is no need to say they have reached their development ceiling. Proof of this is provided by various studies conducted by specialists worldwide. They are gradually changing our understanding of these technologies and preparing them for the long-awaited breakthrough. You can talk for a long time about what it will be like and what benefits humanity will receive. However, it must be said confidently that thermal imaging and night vision have a bright future.
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