Night Vision Technology: Then and Now

ContributorScience, Technology

An introduction to the history of night-vision.

Night vision technology began to be developed in the 1930s and was first used in the 1940s by the German army during WWII.  The devices were first utilized to allow snipers to see greater distances in the dark.  The first time the U.S. used night vision devices (NVGs) was during the Vietnam War of the 1960s.  Back then the devices were actually called “starlight scopes” and were very heavy.  They were far too big to be worn by soldiers and were mounted on weapons instead.

The addition of amplification and intensification technology allowed night vision technology to dramatically advance.  This intensification technology amplifies light using three screens and processes.  The process begins when ambient light enters the lens of the NVG (1) and is turned into electrons after it hits a photocathode plate (number  2 in the image).  The electrons then travel to a second plate, a micro channel plane(3), which can amplify light up to 60,000 times, using the energy generated the power device (4).  The next screen that the light hits is called the phosphorous plate (5) and it converts the image to one that is visual to the human eye.   Finally the light is ready to pass through the eyepiece (6) and reach the human eye.

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Photo credit: ATNcorp.com
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This intensification process not only allowed viewers to see in darker areas, but it also increased the quality of night vision images, and the distances over which viewers could see.  Additionally, this process, combined with other developments in power and batteries, allowed night vision devices to dramatically decrease in size, to the point which they could soon be attached to the goggles of soldiers and civilians, and mounted on small devices like binoculars and small guns.

Night vision technology has continued to dramatically increase since its first inception.  Right now is an especially exciting time in night vision development, as there has been breakthroughs and research regarding the color and economic factors of night vision.  Recently, a night vision film technology has been developed by the University of Florida.  The University of Florida has adapted technology found in televisions to a film that is capable of converting infrared light into light visible to humans.   A breakthrough in an industry that has been prohibitively expensive for most civilians, the developments at the University of Florida will no doubt make night vision more cost-effective for both civilians and the military.  The new technology is already being developed and adjusted to work in conjunction with cell phones, car windows, and eye glasses.

Progression in another area of night vision, the colors that we can see, has been made by a Japanese company, which is attempting to use infrared light to produce not just shades of green or grayscale in night vision, but a full color spectrum as well.

Whatever happens, the future of night vision promises to be very exciting, both in the military and civilians realms.  For civilians, perhaps soon we will be able to get to know the fascinating and vibrant natural world at night just as well as we know the daytime world.

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Craig Pearson is an avid hunter, outdoorsman, and adventurist. His main passions are hog hunting in Texas and writing about his many adventures. He currently blogs for nightvision 4 less, a supplier of high quality night vision equipment.