Upgrades to the US military’s night vision technology turn darkness into a video game

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The US Army’s Lancer Brigade showed images of the world as seen through the latest night vision technology, and it’s a big improvement on the familiar blurry green images. By swapping the standard green tubes for white (along with other adjustments), the new Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binoculars (ENVG-B) allow people and objects to be seen clearly in a glowing light, almost like a video game lens.

Night vision technology was first developed in the 1930s to help armed forces see in low light. The standard technology people think of around night vision uses a strategy called image enhancement, and it does works the same way on old televisions and computers. The device captures ambient light in an environment (such as from the moon) and passes it through a photocathode, a device that converts photons (the light) into electrons. Those electrons then hit a tube covered with the fluorescent substance phosphor, creating the image.

Usually the tube contains green phosphorus; the human eye is particularly sensitive to wavelengths of light in that color, and early on Research found that people could easily distinguish images using it. But the new ENVG-B technology uses white phosphor tubes, which the military’s Acquisition Support Center offers better contrast. The result is a field of view that clearly outlines people, their equipment and weapons and sets them apart from the background.

The new device is also designed as binoculars to improve depth perception, and they integrate an augmented reality system. They can also allow soldiers to see through the scope of a weapon from a distance.

This type of night vision isn’t available to civilians, but like other military-grade technology, it can eventually trickle down to the general public. Night vision products are already being marketed for hunters. The available devices are largely unregulated, despite concerns that they could be used for domestic terrorism or exported where they could pose a threat to national security.