When you think of night vision goggles, you probably imagine the pitch black of night, illuminated by the color green, which helps improve visibility. Now that’s ancient technology, as the U.S. Army Lancer Brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord demonstrates what soldiers see through the latest and greatest military night vision goggles. A Predator would be jealous.
The new goggles, known as the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binocular – or ENVG-B for short – were designed to greatly improve soldiers’ ability to not only see what’s going on around them in all light conditions, but to distinguish exactly what they see. This was the biggest problem with traditional night vision goggles. The old goggles worked by converting photons collected in low-light conditions into electrons that were amplified as they passed through a vacuum tube and eventually illuminated a phosphor-coated screen, providing a brighter image of what the goggles were seeing.
The traditional color green for night vision technology was chosen because it is considered the easiest for long-term observation in the dark. However, the brightened images lacked contrast and were often very noisy, making it difficult to see what the user was actually seeing. For soldiers in combat, this could be particularly problematic.
In the new ENVG-B night vision goggles, the green phosphor tubes have been replaced with white tubes that give a more contrast and brighter image. Existing technology is complemented by enhancements such as thermal imaging, which can see through obstacles such as dust and smoke and work even in the absence of ambient light, such as underground, and augmented reality, such as real-time edge detection to zoom in and outline objects such as coworkers. The goggles can even communicate wirelessly with the electronic sight on a weapon, allowing a soldier to look through it remotely and aim at a target without having to physically expose himself.
Another problem with traditional night vision technology that the new ENVG-B Army goggles address is the lack of stereo vision. The human brain is much better at evaluating what it sees and tracking targets with full depth perception, but the high cost of the electronics needed to implement night vision meant that it was much cheaper to equip soldiers with monoculars with this technology. The ENVG-B goggles instead feature a “dual-tube binocular system” that allows soldiers to see in 3D at night and also provides the flexibility of allowing either tube to be set aside to use the night vision feature to enhance what the soldier sees with his eyes.
The ENVG-B goggles weigh about two pounds, they’re not as light as binoculars because they still depend on a battery to keep them running for eight hours without recharging, but they’re much smaller and lighter than older versions of the technology and don’t require awkward head straps to hold them in place. They simply hinge down from a mount on the front of a soldier’s helmet. The technology looks to be revolutionary, and we hope it works as well as promised in the field so that it can spread to consumer products in a few years.