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Abstract

Night vision devices provide enormous benefits. They enable


personnel to carry out operations under conditions that would
not otherwise be possible. However, these benefits carry
considerable risks. For instance, individuals often become over
confident about their ability to use image intensification and
infrared devices. In consequence, the use of night vision
equipment is an increasingly common factor in military
incidents and accidents. This paper uses an analysis of
incident and accident data to identify requirements for the
successful deployment of night vision equipment. It is argued
that these applications must be integrated more closely with
existing navigational systems. The successful application of
this technology also depends upon adequate risk assessment
and team-based training.
_______________
Oct. 16 Al Qaeda soldiers may know the terrain better and
they may be able to navigate hidden networks of underground
tunnels. But once night falls, any American troops in
Afghanistan will have at least one advantage:
They can see in the dark.
"Clearly night vision technology is essential. It's one of the
real trump cards we have in the battle with al Qaeda," said
Michael O'Hanlon, a defense specialist at the Brookings
Institution in Washington, D.C. "Otherwise, it would be a small
number of forces fighting a small number of troops on their
own turf. This is an important edge and we need every edge
we can get."
Night vision devices were invented during World War II for use
by American, British and Soviet soldiers and pilots. Since then,
the technology has evolved from bulky devices that amplify
light about 1,000 times to compact equipment that can
amplify any light source (including faint starlight) up to 50,000
times, and eyewear that allows soldiers to see in complete
darkness (such as in caves) by detecting heat differences.
Taliban May Have Some Night Vision Tech
Taliban and al Qaeda forces may have access to some night
vision equipment, bought from other countries in the past.
Last February, for example, a U.S. pilot of Egyptian origin
recounted to a New York court how he flew a private jet for
Saudi exile and alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden
and transported in equipment from Britain including nightvision goggles.

Night vision equipment has also long been available to


consumers in the United States and elsewhere, although it is a
felony to leave the United States with the technology without
a permit.
But experts believe that any equipment al Qaeda forces may
have is scarce, and inferior to U.S. technology.
"The Taliban doesn't seem to have experience with night
vision equipment," said Anthony Cordesman, an ABCNEWS
defense consultant and senior fellow at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies. "So this equipment offers
a lot of advantages."
Some have pointed out that the Soviets had access to night
vision equipment during their drawn-out conflict with
Afghanistan in the 1980s and still the Soviets were forced to
withdraw from that conflict. But Cordesman says equipment
and training among U.S. forces far exceeds whatever Soviet
troops had more than 20 years ago.
"We have the technology," he said. "So 'We own the night'
could take on new meaning."
Already, U.S. pilots have used night vision equipment to
navigate and find targets during night bombings of
Afghanistan. Infrared lasers are also used to illuminate
targets with a light invisible to the naked eye, but visible to
those using infrared detection technology. Infrared images are
portrayed in shades of color onto a TV screen in the cockpit.
"Being able to operate around the clock, in the day and the
night, is vital for the air forces because it places great
uncertainty in the minds of the opposition," said Nick Cook,
aviation consultant for Jane's Defense Weekly.
Amplifying Light, Seeing by Temperatures
Night vision equipment falls into two major categories: image
intensification systems and thermal devices.
Even when a night appears completely dark, near-infrared
light is emitted by the moon and stars. A night vision device
amplifies this light to visible levels. The light, which is made
up of photons, is converted into electrical energy and then
accelerated through a thin disk called a microchannel plate.
As the converted photons strike a phosphorus screen as
electrons, they are perceived through an eyepiece in shades of
green.
"The reason it's in green is because when you put the unit
down, you want your eyes to remain dilated so you can see in
dim light," said Rich Urich, director of operations at Night
Vision Equipment Company in Prescott Valley, Ariz. "Use most

any other color and your pupils will constrict when you take
off the unit."
Infrared technology measures fraction of a degree differences
of heat given off by objects. All living things and many objects
people, animals, recently used cars emit heat in the form
of infrared radiation. Infrared radiation is a part of the
electromagnetic spectrum just below ("infra") the frequency of
red light. Infrared devices read heat by absorbing infrared
light, converting it into a grid of video signals and creating a
picture the viewer can see.
Effective in Winter
Urich explains, while viewing through an infrared device:
"you'll see varying shades of gray or black, with the whitest
segments representing those giving off the most heat." Some
reports have suggested that infrared technology will become
more effective as winter arrives in Afghanistan, since
contrasts between body temperatures and the external
temperatures will increase. But Urich claims the contrast
doesn't necessarily enhance infrared images, and once snow
falls, the opposite is true.
"Infrared systems are very sensitive to white," he says. "The
images can be compromised if there is snow everywhere."
Infrared devices might not only prove useful to ground troops
and pilots for vision, they can also help detect recent
footprints or tire tracks that could still be emitting heat. Even
objects that have recently been touched, like a desk or door,
can show traces of the recent activity.
Besides military use, infrared technology has proven useful in
many other applications. Law enforcement use it to detect
criminals operating at night, border patrol use it to monitor for
illegal crossings, ranchers use it to hunt nocturnal predators
such as coyotes and drivers in some specially-outfitted
automobiles use it for better vision during night driving. The
technology can also help create a thermal image of a home to
find leaks and improve insulation.
____________
The first thing you probably think of when you see the words
night vision is a spy or action movie you've seen, in which
someone straps on a pair of night-vision goggles to find
someone else in a dark building on a moonless night. And you
may have wondered "Do those things really work? Can you
actually see in the dark?"

The answer is most definitely yes. With the proper night-vision


equipment, you can see a person standing over 200 yards
(183 m) away on a moonless, cloudy night! Night vision can
work in two very different ways, depending on the technology
used.
Image enhancement - This works by collecting the tiny
amounts of light, including the lower portion of the infrared
light spectrum, that are present but may be imperceptible to
our eyes, and amplifying it to the point that we can easily
observe the image.
Thermal imaging - This technology operates by capturing
the upper portion of the infrared light spectrum, which is
emitted as heat by objects instead of simply reflected as light.
Hotter objects, such as warm bodies, emit more of this light
than cooler objects like trees or buildings.
In this article, you will learn about the two major night-vision
technologies. We'll also discuss the various types of nightvision equipment and applications. But first, let's talk about
infrared light.
Biometrics, Fire Alarms, Wireless
The use of night vision cameras continues to expand as home
owners in particular realize the importance of maintaining
total coverage of their property. Night time conditons provide
an ideal scenario for intruders to invade your space and steal
your property but with the right equipment, they are kept
under a watchful eye. The other important use for night vision
cameras is keeping an eye on children. Young infants can be
monitored in virtual total darkness. In this article, we'll
examine some solutions for both the exterior and interior of
your property.Indoor Wireless Camera CoverageThe IR
wireless Night Vison camera is ideal for indoor surveillance. At
less than $300, it's manoevrability makes it practical for
keeping an eye on areas of the house which are difficult to
survey with cabled cameras.As mentioned above, keeping a
close watch on infants especially during times when there are
concerns about their health is always a challenge for parents.
A wireless security camera with infrared capability can ease a
lot of that concern.Outdoor Night Vision CoverageThere are
areas around most homes which are considered prime entry
spots for intruders. During daytime conditions, there is less
concern but when the sun sets, that concern will be
heightened.These "blind spots" can be monitored with night
vision security cameras. When looking for the right camera,

make sure it has weather resistant qualities. Security cameras


such as the Weatherproof Day/Night Bullet Color Camera are
serviceable in these situations especially with a little natural
light or some street lighting.One of the important features to
look at when selecting a night vision camera is it's Lux
rating. The closer to zero this is, the better it's ability to
perform in "lightless" conditions. A zero rating would mean it
can see in total darkness. How much should you spend on a
camera with night vision ability? There is a suggestion you
can get away with good performance for less than $300
however , make sure the quality is there.There is no point in
going to the trouble of extending your security camera
coverage if you install inferior equipment. Go for good to high
quality as this can only increase your peace of mind.
______________
The first thing you probably think of when you see the words
night vision is a spy or action movie you've seen, in which
someone straps on a pair of night-vision goggles to find
someone else in a dark building on a moonless night. And you
may have wondered "Do those things really work? Can you
actually see in the dark?"
The answer is most definitely yes. With the proper night-vision
equipment, you can see a person standing over 200 yards
(183 m) away on a moonless, cloudy night! Night vision can
work in two very different ways, depending on the technology
used.
Image enhancement - This works by collecting the tiny
amounts of light, including the lower portion of the infrared
light spectrum, that are present but may be imperceptible to
our eyes, and amplifying it to the point that we can easily
observe the image.
Thermal imaging - This technology operates by capturing
the upper portion of the infrared light spectrum, which is
emitted as heat by objects instead of simply reflected as light.
Hotter objects, such as warm bodies, emit more of this light
than cooler objects like trees or buildings.
In this article, you will learn about the two major night-vision
technologies. We'll also discuss the various types of nightvision equipment and applications. But first, let's talk about
infrared light.
______
The first thing you probably think of when you see the words
night vision is a spy or action movie you've seen, in which

someone straps on a pair of night-vision goggles to find


someone else in a dark building on a moonless night. And you
may have wondered "Do those things really work? Can you
actually see in the dark?"
The answer is most definitely yes. With the proper night-vision
equipment, you can see a person standing over 200 yards
(183 m) away on a moonless, cloudy night! Night vision can
work in two very different ways, depending on the technology
used.
Image enhancement - This works by collecting the tiny
amounts of light, including the lower portion of the infrared
light spectrum, that are present but may be imperceptible to
our eyes, and amplifying it to the point that we can easily
observe the image.
Thermal imaging - This technology operates by capturing
the upper portion of the infrared light spectrum, which is
emitted as heat by objects instead of simply reflected as light.
Hotter objects, such as warm bodies, emit more of this light
than cooler objects like trees or buildings.
In this article, you will learn about the two major night-vision
technologies. We'll also discuss the various types of nightvision equipment and applications. But first, let's talk about
infrared light.
Infrared Light
In order to understand night vision, it is important to
understand something about light . The amount of energy in a
light wave is related to its wavelength: Shorter wavelengths
have higher energy. Of visible light, violet has the most energy,
and red has the least. Just next to the visible light spectrum
is the infrared spectrum.
Infrared light can be split into three categories:
Near-infrared (near-IR) - Closest to visible light, near-IR
has wavelengths that range from 0.7 to 1.3 microns, or 700
billionths to 1,300 billionths of a meter.
Mid-infrared (mid-IR) - Mid-IR has wavelengths ranging
from 1.3 to 3 microns. Both near-IR and mid-IR are used by a
variety of electronic devices, including remote controls.
Thermal-infrared (thermal-IR) - Occupying the largest part
of the infrared spectrum, thermal-IR has wavelengths ranging
from 3 microns to over 30 microns.
The key difference between thermal-IR and the other two is
that thermal-IR is emitted by an object instead of reflected off
it. Infrared light is emitted by an object because of what is

happening at the atomic level.


Atoms
Atoms are constantly in motion. They continuously vibrate,
move and rotate. Even the atoms that make up the chairs that
we sit in are moving around. Solids are actually in motion!
Atoms can be in different states of excitation. In other words,
they can have different energies. If we apply a lot of energy to
an atom, it can leave what is called the ground-state energy
level and move to an excited level . The level of excitation
depends on the amount of energy applied to the atom via
heat, light or electricity.
An atom consists of a nucleus (containing the protons and
neutrons) and an electron cloud. Think of the electrons in this
cloud as circling the nucleus in many different orbits . Although
more modern views of the atom do not depict discrete orbits
for the electrons, it can be useful to think of these orbits as
the different energy levels of the atom. In other words, if we
apply some heat to an atom, we might expect that some of
the electrons in the lower energy orbitals would transition to
higher energy orbitals, moving farther from the nucleus.
Once an electron moves to a higher-energy orbit, it eventually
wants to return to the ground state. When it does, it releases
its energy as a photon -- a particle of light. You see atoms
releasing energy as photons all the time. For example, when
the heating element in a toaster turns bright red, the red color
is caused by atoms excited by heat, releasing red photons. An
excited electron has more energy than a relaxed electron, and
just as the electron absorbed some amount of energy to reach
this excited level, it can release this energy to return to the
ground state. This emitted energy is in the form of photons
(light energy). The photon emitted has a very specific
wavelength (color) that depends on the state of the electron's
energy when the photon is released.
Anything that is alive uses energy, and so do many inanimate
items such as engines and rockets . Energy consumption
generates heat. In turn, heat causes the atoms in an object to
fire off photons in the thermal-infrared spectrum. The hotter
the object, the shorter the wavelength of the infrared photon it
releases. An object that is very hot will even begin to emit
photons in the visible spectrum, glowing red and then moving
up through orange, yellow, blue and eventually white. Be sure
to read How Light Bulbs Work , How Lasers Work and How
Light Works for more detailed information on light and photon
emission.

In night vision, thermal imaging takes advantage of this


infrared emission. In the next section, we'll see just how it
does this.
The basic components of a thermal-imaging system
Image courtesy of Infrared, Inc.
It is quite easy to see
everything during the
day...
Image courtesy of Infrared,
Inc.
...but at night, you can
see very little.
Image courtesy of Infrared,
Inc.
Thermal imaging lets you
see again.
Image courtesy of Infrared,
Inc.
Thermal Imaging
Here's how thermal imaging works:
1. A special lens focuses the infrared light emitted by all of
the objects in view.
2. The focused light is scanned by a phased array of infrareddetector elements. The detector elements create a very
detailed temperature pattern called a thermogram . It only
takes about one-thirtieth of a second for the detector array to
obtain the temperature information to make the thermogram.
This information is obtained from several thousand points in
the field of view of the detector array.
3. The thermogram created by the detector elements is
translated into electric impulses.
4. The impulses are sent to a signal-processing unit, a circuit
board with a dedicated chip that translates the information
from the elements into data for the display.
5. The signal-processing unit sends the information to the
display, where it appears as various colors depending on the
intensity of the infrared emission. The combination of all the
impulses from all of the elements creates the image.
Types of Thermal Imaging
Devices
Most thermal-imaging devices
scan at a rate of 30 times per
second. They can sense

temperatures ranging from -4


degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees
Celsius) to 3,600 F (2,000 C),
and can normally detect
changes in temperature of about
0.4 F (0.2 C).
There are two common types of
thermal-imaging devices:
Un-cooled - This is the most
common type of thermalimaging device. The infrareddetector elements are contained
in a unit that operates at room
temperature. This type of system
is completely quiet, activates
immediately and has the battery
built right in.
Cryogenically cooled - More
expensive and more susceptible
to damage from rugged use,
these systems have the
elements sealed inside a
container that cools them to
below 32 F (zero C). The
advantage of such a system is
the incredible resolution and
sensitivity that result from
cooling the elements.
Cryogenically-cooled systems
can "see" a difference as small as 0.2 F (0.1 C) from more
than 1,000 ft (300 m) away, which is enough to tell if a
person is holding a gun at that distance!
While thermal imaging is great for detecting people or working
in near-absolute darkness, most night-vision equipment uses
image-enhancement technology.
The image-intensifier tube changes photons to electrons and
back again.
Image Enhancement
Image-enhancement technology is what most people think of
when you talk about night vision. In fact, image-enhancement
systems are normally called night-vision devices (NVDs).
NVDs rely on a special tube, called an image-intensifier tube ,
to collect and amplify infrared and visible light.

Here's how image enhancement works:


1. A conventional lens, called the objective lens , captures
ambient light and some near-infrared light.
2. The gathered light is sent to the image-intensifier tube. In
most NVDs, the power supply for the image-intensifier tube
receives power from two N-Cell or two "AA" batteries. The
tube outputs a high voltage, about 5,000 volts, to the imagetube components.
3. The image-intensifier tube has a photocathode , which is
used to convert the photons of light energy into electrons.
4. As the electrons pass through the tube, similar electrons
are released from atoms in the tube, multiplying the original
number of electrons by a factor of thousands through the use
of a microchannel plate (MCP) in the tube. An MCP is a tiny
glass disc that has millions of microscopic holes
(microchannels) in it, made using fiber-optic technology . The
MCP is contained in a vacuum and has metal electrodes on
either side of the disc. Each channel is about 45 times longer
than it is wide, and it works as an electron multiplier. When
the electrons from the photo cathode hit the first electrode of
the MCP, they are accelerated into the glass microchannels by
the 5,000-V bursts being sent between the electrode pair. As
electrons pass through the microchannels, they cause
thousands of other electrons to be released in each channel
using a process called cascaded secondary emission.
Basically, the original electrons collide with the side of the
channel, exciting atoms and causing other electrons to be
released. These new electrons also collide with other atoms,
creating a chain reaction that results in thousands of electrons
leaving the channel where only a few entered. An interesting
fact is that the microchannels in the MCP are created at a
slight angle (about a 5-degree to 8-degree bias) to encourage
electron collisions and reduce both ion and direct-light
feedback from the phosphors on the output side.
5. At the end of the image-intensifier tube, the electrons hit a
screen coated with phosphors . These electrons maintain their
position in relation to the channel they passed through, which
provides a perfect image since the electrons stay in the same
alignment as the original photons. The energy of the electrons
causes the phosphors to reach an excited state and release
photons. These phosphors create the green image on the
screen that has come to characterize night vision.
6. The green phosphor image is viewed through another lens,
called the ocular lens , which allows you to magnify and focus

the image. The NVD may be connected to an electronic


display, such as a monitor , or the image may be viewed
directly through the ocular lens.
Generations
NVDs have been around for more than 40 years. They are
categorized by generation . Each substantial change in NVD
technology establishes a new generation.
Generation 0 - The original night-vision system created by
the United States Army and used in World War II and the
Korean War, these NVDs use active infrared . This means that
a projection unit, called an IR Illuminator, is attached to the
NVD. The unit projects a beam of near-infrared light, similar
to the beam of a normal flashlight. Invisible to the naked eye,
this beam reflects off objects and bounces back to the lens of
the NVD. These systems use an anode in conjunction with the
cathode to accelerate the electrons. The problem with that
approach is that the acceleration of the electrons distorts the
image and greatly decreases the life of the tube. Another
major problem with this technology in its original military use
was that it was quickly duplicated by hostile nations, which
allowed enemy soldiers to use their own NVDs to see the
infrared beam projected by the device.
Generation 1 - The next generation of NVDs moved away
from active infrared, using passive infrared instead. Once
dubbed Starlight by the U.S. Army, these NVDs use ambient
light provided by the moon and stars to augment the normal
amounts of reflected infrared in the environment. This means
that they did not require a source of projected infrared light.
This also means that they do not work very well on cloudy or
moonless nights. Generation-1 NVDs use the same imageintensifier tube technology as Generation 0, with both cathode
and anode, so image distortion and short tube life are still a
problem.
Generation 2 - Major improvements in image-intensifier
tubes resulted in Generation-2 NVDs. They offer improved
resolution and performance over Generation-1 devices, and are
considerably more reliable. The biggest gain in Generation 2 is
the ability to see in extremely low light conditions, such as a
moonless night. This increased sensitivity is due to the
addition of the microchannel plate to the image-intensifier
tube. Since the MCP actually increases the number of
electrons instead of just accelerating the original ones, the
images are significantly less distorted and brighter than

earlier-generation NVDs.
Generation 3 - Generation 3 is currently used by the U.S.
military. While there are no substantial changes in the
underlying technology from Generation 2, these NVDs have
even better resolution and sensitivity. This is because the
photo cathode is made using gallium arsenide, which is very
efficient at converting photons to electrons. Additionally, the
MCP is coated with an ion barrier, which dramatically
increases the life of the tube.
Generation 4 - What is generally known as Generation 4 or
"filmless and gated" technology shows significant overall
improvement in both low- and high-level light environments.
The removal of the ion barrier from the MCP that was added
in Generation 3 technology reduces the background noise and
thereby enhances the signal to noise ratio. Removing the ion
film actually allows more electrons to reach the amplification
stage so that the images are significantly less distorted and
brighter. The addition of an automatic gated power supply
system allows the photocathode voltage to switch on and off
rapidly, thereby enabling the NVD to respond to a fluctuation
in lighting conditions in an instant. This capability is a critical
advance in NVD systems, in that it allows the NVD user to
quickly move from high-light to low-light (or from low-light to
high-light) environments without any halting effects. For
example, consider the ubiquitous movie scene where an agent
using night vision goggles is sightless when someone turns
on a light nearby. With the new, gated power feature, the
change in lighting wouldnt have the same impact; the
improved NVD would respond immediately to the lighting
change.
Many of the so-called "bargain" night-vision scopes use
Generation-0 or Generation-1 technology, and may be
disappointing if you expect the sensitivity of the devices used
by professionals. Generation-2, Generation-3 and Generation 4
NVDs are typically expensive to purchase, but they will last if
properly cared for. Also, any NVD can benefit from the use of
an IR Illuminator in very dark areas where there is almost no
ambient light to collect.
A cool thing to note is that every single image-intensifier tube
is put through rigorous tests to see if it meets the
requirements set forth by the military. Tubes that do are
classified as MILSPEC. Tubes that fail to meet military
requirements in even a single category are classified as
COMSPEC .

Cameras - Cameras with night-vision technology can send


the image to a monitor for display or to a VCR for recording.
When night-vision capability is desired in a permanent
location, such as on a building or as part of the equipment in
a helicopter, cameras are used. Many of the newer
camcorders have night vision built right in.
Applications
Common applications for night vision include:
Military
Law enforcement
Hunting
Wildlife observation
Surveillance
Security
Navigation
Hidden-object detection
Entertainment
The original purpose of night vision was to locate enemy
targets at night. It is still used extensively by the military for
that purpose, as well as for navigation, surveillance and
targeting. Police and security often use both thermal-imaging
and image-enhancement technology, particularly for
surveillance. Hunters and nature enthusiasts use NVDs to
maneuver through the woods at night.
Detectives and private investigators use night vision to watch
people they are assigned to track. Many businesses have
permanently-mounted cameras equipped with night vision to
monitor the surroundings.
A really amazing ability of thermal imaging is that it reveals
whether an area has been disturbed -- it can show that the
ground has been dug up to bury something, even if there is no
obvious sign to the naked eye. Law enforcement has used this
to discover items that have been hidden by criminals,
including money, drugs and bodies. Also, recent changes to
areas such as walls can be seen using thermal imaging, which
has provided important clues in several cases.
Many people are beginning to discover the unique world that
can be found after darkness falls. If you're out camping or
hunting a lot, chances are that night-vision devices can be
useful to you -- just be sure to get the right type for your
needs.
----Whats The Difference between Thermal
Imaging and Night Vision?

Lets start with a little background. Our eyes see reflected


light. Daylight cameras, night vision devices, and the human
eye all work on the same basic principle: visible light energy
hits something and bounces off it, a detector then receives it
and turns it into an image.
Whether an eyeball, or in a camera, these detectors must
receive enough light or they cant make an image. Obviously,
there isnt any sunlight to bounce off anything at night, so
theyre limited to the light provided by starlight, moonlight
and artificial lights. If there isnt enough, they wont do much
to help you see.
Thermal Imaging Cameras
Thermal imagers are altogether different. In fact, we call them
cameras but they are really sensors. To understand how
they work, the first thing you have to do is forget everything
you thought you knew about how cameras make pictures.
FLIRs make pictures from heat, not visible light. Heat (also
called infrared , or thermal , energy) and light are both parts of
the electromagnetic spectrum, but a camera that can detect
visible light wont see thermal energy, and vice versa.
Thermal cameras detect more than just heat though; they
detect tiny differences in heat as small as 0.01C and
display them as shades of grey in black and white TV video.
This can be a tricky idea to get across, and many people just
dont understand the concept, so well spend a little time
explaining it.
Everything we encounter in our day-to-day lives gives off
thermal energy, even ice. The hotter something is the more
thermal energy it emits. This emitted thermal energy is called
a heat signature. When two objects next to one another have
even subtly different heat signatures, they show up quite
clearly to a FLIR regardless of lighting conditions.
Thermal energy comes from a combination of sources,
depending on what you are viewing at the time. Some things
warm-blooded animals (including people!), engines, and
machinery, for example create their own heat, either
biologically or mechanically. Other things land, rocks, buoys,
vegetation absorb heat from the sun during the day and
radiate it off during the night.
Because different materials absorb and radiate thermal energy
at different rates, an area that we think of as being one
temperature is actually a mosaic of subtly different
temperatures. This is why a log thats been in the water for
days on end will appear to be a different temperature than the

water, and is therefore visible to a thermal imager. FLIRs


detect these temperature differences and translate them into
image detail.
While all this can seem rather complex, the reality is that
modern thermal cameras are extremely easy to use. Their
imagery is clear and easy to understand, requiring no training
or interpretation. If you can watch TV, you can use a FLIR
thermal camera.
Night Vision Devices
Those greenish pictures we see in the movies and on TV come
from night vision goggles (NVGs) or other devices that use
the same core technologies. NVGs take in small amounts of
visible light, magnify it greatly, and project that on a display.
Cameras made from NVG technology have the same
limitations as the naked eye: if there isnt enough visible light
available, they cant see well. The imaging performance of
anything that relies on reflected light is limited by the amount
and strength of the light being reflected.
NVG and other lowlight cameras are not very useful during
twilight hours, when there is too much light for them to work
effectively, but not enough light for you to see with the naked
eye. Thermal cameras arent affected by visible light, so they
can give you clear pictures even when you are looking into the
setting sun. In fact, you can aim a spotlight at a FLIR and still
get a perfect picture.
Infrared Illuminated (I ) Cameras
I cameras try to generate their own reflected light by
projecting a beam of near-infrared energy that their imager
can see when it bounces off an object. This works to a point,
but I cameras still rely on reflected light to make an image,
so they have the same limitations as any other night vision
camera that depends on reflected light energy short range,
and poor contrast.
Contrast
All of these visible light cameras daylight cameras, NVG
cameras, and I cameras work by detecting reflected light
energy. But the amount of reflected light they receive is not
the only factor that determines whether or not youll be able
to see with these cameras: image contrast matters, too.
If youre looking at something with lots of contrast compared
to its surroundings, youll have a better chance of seeing it
with a visible light camera. If it doesnt have good contrast,
you wont see it well, no matter how bright the sun is shining.
A white object seen against a dark background has lots of

contrast. A darker object, however, will be hard for these


cameras to see against a dark background. This is called
having poor contrast. At night, when the lack of visible light
naturally decreases image contrast, visible light camera
performance suffers even more.
Thermal imagers dont have any of these shortcomings. First,
they have nothing to do with reflected light energy: they see
heat. Everything you see in normal daily life has a heat
signature. This is why you have a much better chance of
seeing something at night with a thermal imager than you do
with visible light camera, even a night vision camera.
In fact, many of the objects you could be looking for, like
people, generate their own contrast because they generate
their own heat. Thermal imagers can see them well because
they dont just make pictures from heat; they make pictures
from the minute differences in heat between objects.
Night vision devices have the same drawbacks that daylight
and lowlight TV cameras do: they need enough light, and
enough contrast to create usable images. Thermal imagers, on
the other hand, see clearly day and night, while creating their
own contrast. Without a doubt, thermal cameras are the best
24-hour imaging option.
Whats The Difference between Thermal
Imaging and Night Vision?
Lets start with a little background. Our eyes see reflected
light. Daylight cameras, night vision devices, and the human
eye all work on the same basic principle: visible light energy
hits something and bounces off it, a detector then receives it
and turns it into an image.
Whether an eyeball, or in a camera, these detectors must
receive enough light or they cant make an image. Obviously,
there isnt any sunlight to bounce off anything at night, so
theyre limited to the light provided by starlight, moonlight
and artificial lights. If there isnt enough, they wont do much
to help you see.
Thermal Imaging Cameras
Thermal imagers are altogether different. In fact, we call them
cameras but they are really sensors. To understand how
they work, the first thing you have to do is forget everything
you thought you knew about how cameras make pictures.
FLIRs make pictures from heat, not visible light. Heat (also
called infrared , or thermal , energy) and light are both parts of
the electromagnetic spectrum, but a camera that can detect

visible light wont see thermal energy, and vice versa.


Thermal cameras detect more than just heat though; they
detect tiny differences in heat as small as 0.01C and
display them as shades of grey in black and white TV video.
This can be a tricky idea to get across, and many people just
dont understand the concept, so well spend a little time
explaining it.
Everything we encounter in our day-to-day lives gives off
thermal energy, even ice. The hotter something is the more
thermal energy it emits. This emitted thermal energy is called
a heat signature. When two objects next to one another have
even subtly different heat signatures, they show up quite
clearly to a FLIR regardless of lighting conditions.
Thermal energy comes from a combination of sources,
depending on what you are viewing at the time. Some things
warm-blooded animals (including people!), engines, and
machinery, for example create their own heat, either
biologically or mechanically. Other things land, rocks, buoys,
vegetation absorb heat from the sun during the day and
radiate it off during the night.
Because different materials absorb and radiate thermal energy
at different rates, an area that we think of as being one
temperature is actually a mosaic of subtly different
temperatures. This is why a log thats been in the water for
days on end will appear to be a different temperature than the
water, and is therefore visible to a thermal imager. FLIRs
detect these temperature differences and translate them into
image detail.
While all this can seem rather complex, the reality is that
modern thermal cameras are extremely easy to use. Their
imagery is clear and easy to understand, requiring no training
or interpretation. If you can watch TV, you can use a FLIR
thermal camera.
Night Vision Devices
Those greenish pictures we see in the movies and on TV come
from night vision goggles (NVGs) or other devices that use
the same core technologies. NVGs take in small amounts of
visible light, magnify it greatly, and project that on a display.
Cameras made from NVG technology have the same
limitations as the naked eye: if there isnt enough visible light
available, they cant see well. The imaging performance of
anything that relies on reflected light is limited by the amount
and strength of the light being reflected.
NVG and other lowlight cameras are not very useful during

twilight hours, when there is too much light for them to work
effectively, but not enough light for you to see with the naked
eye. Thermal cameras arent affected by visible light, so they
can give you clear pictures even when you are looking into the
setting sun. In fact, you can aim a spotlight at a FLIR and still
get a perfect picture.
Infrared Illuminated (I ) Cameras
I cameras try to generate their own reflected light by
projecting a beam of near-infrared energy that their imager
can see when it bounces off an object. This works to a point,
but I cameras still rely on reflected light to make an image,
so they have the same limitations as any other night vision
camera that depends on reflected light energy short range,
and poor contrast.
Contrast
All of these visible light cameras daylight cameras, NVG
cameras, and I cameras work by detecting reflected light
energy. But the amount of reflected light they receive is not
the only factor that determines whether or not youll be able
to see with these cameras: image contrast matters, too.
If youre looking at something with lots of contrast compared
to its surroundings, youll have a better chance of seeing it
with a visible light camera. If it doesnt have good contrast,
you wont see it well, no matter how bright the sun is shining.
A white object seen against a dark background has lots of
contrast. A darker object, however, will be hard for these
cameras to see against a dark background. This is called
having poor contrast. At night, when the lack of visible light
naturally decreases image contrast, visible light camera
performance suffers even more.
Thermal imagers dont have any of these shortcomings. First,
they have nothing to do with reflected light energy: they see
heat. Everything you see in normal daily life has a heat
signature. This is why you have a much better chance of
seeing something at night with a thermal imager than you do
with visible light camera, even a night vision camera.
In fact, many of the objects you could be looking for, like
people, generate their own contrast because they generate
their own heat. Thermal imagers can see them well because
they dont just make pictures from heat; they make pictures
from the minute differences in heat between objects.
Night vision devices have the same drawbacks that daylight
and lowlight TV cameras do: they need enough light, and
enough contrast to create usable images. Thermal imagers, on

the other hand, see clearly day and night, while creating their
own contrast. Without a doubt, thermal cameras are the best
24-hour imaging option.
______
"Night Vision" as referenced here is that technology that
provides us with the miracle of vision in total darkness and
the improvement of vision in low light environments.
This technology is an amalgam of several different methods
each having its own advantages and disadvantages. The
most common methods as described below are Low-Light
Imaging, Thermal Imaging and Near-infrared Illumination .
The most common applications include night driving or
flying, night security and surveillance, wildlife observation,
sleep lab monitoring and search and rescue. A wide range of
night vision products are available to suit the various
requirements that may exist for these applications:
Low-Light Imaging
Image intensifiers
On-chip gain multiplication cameras
Thermal Imaging
Cooled-detector infrared cameras
Uncooled-detector infrared cameras
Near Infrared Illumination
IR Illumination
Glossary of Night Vision Terms
Low-Light Imaging
Today, the most popular and well known method of performing
night vision is based on the use of image intensifiers. Image
intensifiers are commonly used in night vision goggles and
night scopes. More recently, on-chip gain multiplication CCD
cameras have become popularized for performing low-light
security, surveillance and astronomical observation.
Image Intensifiers
HOW THEY WORK: This method of night vision amplifies the
available light to achieve better vision. An objective lens
focuses available light (photons) on the photocathode of an
image intensifier. The light energy causes electrons to be
released from the cathode which are accelerated by an electric
field to increase their speed (energy level). These electrons
enter holes in a microchannel plate and bounce off the internal
specially-coated walls which generate more electrons as the
electrons bounce through. This creates a denser "cloud" of
electrons representing an intensified version of the original

image.
The final stage of the image intensifier involves electrons
hitting a phosphor screen. The energy of the electrons makes
the phosphor glow. The visual light shows the desired view to
the user or to an attached photographic camera or video
device. A green phosphor is used in these applications
because the human eye can differentiate more shades of green
than any other color, allowing for greater differentiation of
objects in the picture.
All image intensifiers operate in the above fashion.
Technological differences over the past 40 years have resulted
in substantial improvement to the performance of these
devices. The different paradigms of technology have been
commonly identified by distinct generations of image
intensifiers. Intensified camera systems usually incorporate an
image intensifier to create a brighter image of the low-light
scene which is then viewed by a traditional camera.
Image Intensifiers
Advantages Disadvantages
Excellent low-light level sensitivity.
Enhanced visible imaging yields the best possible.
recognition and identification performance.
High resolution.
Low power and cost.
Ability to identify people.
Because they are based on amplification methods,
some light is required. This method is not useful
when there is essentially no light.
Inferior daytime performance when compared to
daylight-only methods.
Possibility of blooming and damage when observing
bright sources under low-light conditions.
Image Intensifier Based Products:
Night Vision Goggles Intensified Pro-sumer Camcorders
Night Vision Pocketscopes Intensified Nikon Cameras
Intensified Professional News Cameras Intensified Canon Cameras
Intensified Removable Lens Camcorders
On-chip Gain Multiplication Cameras
HOW THEY WORK: In order to overcome some of the
disadvantages of image intensifiers, CCD image detector
manufacturers have substantially improved the sensitivity of
certain CCD detectors by incorporating an on-chip
multiplication gain technology to multiply photon-generated
charge above the detector's noise levels. The multiplication

gain takes place after photons have been detected in the


device's active area but before one of the detector's primary
noise sources (e.g. readout noise). In a new multiplication
register, electrons are accelerated from pixel-to-pixel by
applying high CCD clock voltages. As a result, secondary
electrons are generated via an impact-ionization process. Gain
can be controlled by varying the clock voltages.
Because the signal boost occurs before the charge reaches
the on-chip readout amplifier and gets added to the primary
noise source, the signal-to-noise ratio for this device is
significantly improved over standard CCD cameras and yields
low-light imaging performance far superior than traditional
CCD cameras. However, since the CCD temperature also
affects the on-chip gain multiplication (lower temperatures
yield higher gain) and because other noise sources exist that
occur before the multiplication (i.e. dark noise), it is prudent
in these systems to temperature stabilize these detectors at
temperatures about of below room temperature.
Another method for improving a CCD camera's sensitivity is to
perform averaging to reduce noise either temporally (where
sequential video frames are averaged) or spatially (where
neighboring pixels are "binned" or added together).
On-chip Gain Multiplication Cameras
Advantages Disadvantages
High sensitivity in low-light.
Reduced likelihood of damage to the imaging
detector due to viewing bright sources.
High speed imagin capability.
Good daytime imaging performance.
High power dissipation due to the necessity to have
a temperature stabilizer.
Blooming when viewing bright sources in dark
scenes.
On-chip Gain Multiplication Camera-based Products:
Day/night surveillance camera
Frame-averaged and binned low-light CCD camera
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Thermal Imaging
Different from low-light imaging methods of night vision
(which require some ambient light in order to produce an
image), thermal imaging night vision methods do not require
any ambient light at all. They operate on the principal that all
objects emit infrared energy as a function of their temperature.
In general, the hotter an object is, the more radiation it emits.

A thermal imager is a product that collects the infrared


radiation from objects in the scene and creates an electronic
image. Since they do not rely on reflected ambient light,
thermal imagers are entirely ambient light-level independent.
In addition, they also are able to penetrate obscurants such
as smoke, fog and haze. There are two types of thermal
imaging detectors: cooled and uncooled. Cooled detector
infrared cameras require cryogenic cooling to very cold
temperatures (below 200K). Uncooled detector infrared
cameras are normally either temperature stabilized (at room
temperatures) or entirely unstabilized.
Thermal images are normally black and white in nature, where
black objects are cold and white objects are hot. Some
thermal cameras show images in color. This false color is an
excellent way of better distinguishing between objects at
different temperatures.
Cooled-detector Infrared Cameras
HOW THEY WORK: Cooled infrared detectors are typically
housed in a vacuum-sealed case and cryogenically cooled.
The detector designs are similar to other more common
imaging detectors and use semiconductor materials. However,
it is the effect of absorbed infrared energy that causes
changes to detector carrier concentrations which in turn affect
the detector's electrical properties. Cooling the detectors
(typically to temperatures below 110K, a value much lower
than the temperature of objects being detected) greatly
increases their sensitivity. Without cooling, the detectors
would be flooded by their own self-radiation.
Materials used for infrared detection include a wide range of
narrow gap semiconductor devices, where mercury cadmium
telluride (HgCdTe) and indium antimonide (InSb) are the most
common.
Cooled-detector Thermal Imaging Cameras
Advantages Disadvantages
The highest possible thermal sensitivity.
Able to detect people and vehicles at great
distances.
Not affected by bright light sources.
Able to perform high speed infrared imaging.
Able to perform multi-spectral infrared imaging.
Expensive to purchase and to operate.
Limited cooler operating lifetime.
May require several minutes to cool down upon
initiation.

Bulky
Cooled-detector Infrared Cameras
Short-wave Infrared Cameras
Mid-wave Infrared Cameras
Long-wave Infrared Cameras
Multi-spectral Infrared Camera
Uncooled-detector Cameras
HOW THEY WORK: Unlike the cryogenically cooled detectors
described above, uncooled infrared detectors operate at or
near room temperature rather than being cooled to extremely
low temperatures by bulky and expensive cryogenic coolers.
When infrared radiation from night-time scenes are focused
onto uncooled detectors, the heat absorbed causes changes to
the electrical properties of the detector material. These
changes are then compared to baseline values and a thermal
image is created. Despite lower image quality than cooled
detectors, uncooled detector technology makes infrared
cameras smaller and less costly and opens many viable
commercial applications.
Uncooled detectors are mostly based on materials that change
their electrical properties due to pyroelectric (capacitive)
effects or microbolometer (resistive) effects.
Uncooled-detector Thermal Imaging Cameras
Advantages Disadvantages
Relatively inexpensive compared to other thermal
imaging technologies.
High contrast in most night-time scenarios.
Easily detects people and vehicles.
Not affected by bright light sources .
Higher reliability than cooled detector thermal
imagers .
Less sensitive than cooled detector thermal
imagers.
Cannot be used for multispectral or high-speed
infrared applications .
Uncooled-detector Thermal Imaging Products:
Uncooled thermal imaging camera (fixed mount)
Uncooled thermal imaging camera (portable)
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Near Infrared Illumination
A popular and sometimes inexpensive method for performing
night vision is by near infrared illumination. In this method, a
device that is sensitive to invisible near infrared radiation is
used in conjunction with an infrared illuminator. The Sony

Night Shot camcorder popularized this method. Because of the


IR sensitivity of the camcorder's CCD detector and since Sony
installed an infrared light source in the camcorder, infrared
illumination was available to augment otherwise low-light
video scenes and produce reasonable image quality in lowlight situations.
The method of near-infrared illumination has been used in a
variety of night vision applications including perimeter
protection where, by integrating with video motion detection
and intelligent scene analysis devices, a reliable low-light
video security system can be developed.
IR Illumination
HOW THEY WORK: Several different near infrared illumination
devices are available today, including:
Filtered incandescent lamps: A standard high power lamp that
is covered by an infrared filter designed to pass the lamp's
near infrared radiation and block the visible light component.
These devices typically need good heat transfer properties
since the intense visible light is internally absorbed and
dissipated as heat.
LED type illuminators: These illuminators utilize an array of
standard infrared emitting LEDs.
Laser type: The most efficient infrared illuminator, these
devices are based on an infrared laser diode that emits near
infrared energy.
Near infrared illuminators are typically available in a range of
wavelengths (e.g. 730nm, 830nm, 920nm). Providing
supplemental infrared illumination of an appropriate
wavelength not only eliminates the variability of available
ambient light, but also allows the observer to illuminate only
specific areas of interest while eliminating shadows and
enhancing image contrast. The supplemental near infrared
lighting not only improves the quality of image intensifier
devices (which have both a visible and a near-infrared
response), but also permits the use of solid state cameras,
which also have the ability to convert near infrared images to
visible.
IR Illumination
Advantages Disadvantages
Lowest cost compared to other night vision
technologies.
Eliminate shadows and reveal identifying lettering,
numbers and objects. Can also be used to perform
facial identification.

Able to perform high-speed video capture (such as


reading license plates of moving vehicles).
IR illuminators can see through night-time fog, mist,
rain and snowfall as well as windows.
Eliminates the variability of ambient light.
Users of infrared illuminators can be detected by
others that have near-infrared viewing devices.
IR Illumination Products:
Wide area infrared laser illuminator
Portable Laser illuminator