When you think of night-vision goggles, you probably imagine the pitch black of night being illuminated in a sea of green that helps improve visibility. That’s ancient technology now as the US Army’s Lancer Brigade of Joint Base Lewis–McChord demonstrates what soldiers see through the military’s latest and greatest night vision goggles. The Predator would be jealous.
Known as the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binocular—or ENVG-B, for short—the new goggles were designed to vastly improve a soldier’s ability to not only see what is going on all around them under any lighting conditions but to also be able to accurately discern what they’re seeing. That was the biggest problem with traditional night vision goggles. The old ones worked by converting the photons gathered in low-light light settings into electrons that were amplified as they passed through a vacuum tube and eventually lit up a phosphor-coated screen that provided a brighter image of what the goggles were seeing.
The traditional green color of night vision technology was chosen because it was considered to be the easiest color to look at for prolonged periods in the dark. But the brightened images lacked contrast and were often very noisy, which made it difficult for a user to understand what they were really seeing. For soldiers in combat, that can be especially problematic.
The new ENVG-B night vision goggles upgrade the green phosphor tubes to white ones that produce better contrast and brighter images. And the existing technology is paired with enhancements that include a thermal imager that can see through obstructions like dust and smoke that even works when there’s zero external illumination like when underground, as well as added augmented reality enhancements like real-time edge detection to enhance and outline objects like fellow troops. The goggles can even wirelessly communicate with an electronic scope on a weapon, letting a soldier remotely look through it and aim at a target without having to physically expose themselves to a threat.
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Another issue with traditional night vision technology being addressed with the Army’s new ENVG-B goggles 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 realize night vision meant it was much cheaper to equip soldiers with monoculars featuring the technology. The ENVG-B goggles instead feature a “dual tubed binocular system” that allows soldiers to see in 3D at night, while also providing the flexibility of flipping either tube out of the way so the night vision functionality can be used to enhance what a soldier is natively seeing through their own eyes.
Weighing in at around two pounds the ENVG-B goggles aren’t as light as binoculars because they’re still dependent on a battery to keep them running for around eight hours on a charge, but they’re much smaller and lighter than older versions of the technology, and they don’t require uncomfortable head straps to keep them in place. They simply flip down from a mount on the front of a soldier’s helmet. The technology looks to be a game-changer, and here’s to hoping it works as well as promised in the field so that in a few years it can trickle down to consumer products.