Upgrades to the US Army’s night vision technology make darkness into a video game

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

Night vision technology was first developed in the 1930s to help military forces see during low-light conditions. The standard tech people think of around night vision uses a strategy called image enhancement, and it works similarly to old televisions and computers. The device picks up any ambient light in an environment (like from the Moon) and passes it through a photocathode, a device that transforms photons (the light) into electrons. Those electrons then hit a tube covered in the fluorescent substance phosphor, creating the image.

Usually, the tube contains green phosphor; the human eye is particularly sensitive to wavelengths of light in that color, and early research found that people could easily distinguish images that use it. But the new ENVG-B tech uses white phosphor tubes, which the Army’s Acquisition Support Center says offer better contrast. The result is a visual field that clearly outlines people, their equipment, and weapons, distinguishing them from the background.

The new device also is designed as a set of binoculars to improve depth perception, and they integrate an augmented reality system. They can also let soldiers look through the scope of a weapon remotely.

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

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