New All-Optical Approach Revolutionizes Night Vision Tech

A young woman wearing futuristic neon-lit goggles walks along a dimly lit forest path at night. Several other people, also wearing neon goggles, walk or jog in the background under trees illuminated by soft, colorful lights.

New research could completely change how people use night vision technology.

The development comes from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Transformative Meta-Optical Systems (TMOS), and it could lead to a new approach toward night vision altogether by “creating an infrared filter that is thinner than a piece of cling wrap.” At this size, the night vision technology could even sit atop eyewear, the TMOS release points out, “allowing the user to view the infrared and visible light spectrum at the same time.”

This would mean severely cutting down on the size and weight currently available. In doing so, the use cases open drastically as well. As TMOS noted, night vision tech is primarily used by the military and both hunting enthusiasts and photographers willing to lug around the onerous gear. According to researchers, the new methods could mean the same tech now weighs less than a gram.

Specifically, the research, which TMOS published in Advanced Materials, used “a non-local lithium niobate metasurface.”

“Traditional night vision technology requires infrared photons to pass through a lens, then encounter a photocathode that transforms these photons into electrons, which then go through a microchannel plate to increase the number of electrons generated,” TMOS explains. “These electrons which travel through a phosphor screen to be reconverted back to photons, producing an intensified visible image that can be seen by eye. These elements require cryogenic cooling to prevent thermal noise from also being intensified. A high-quality night vision system, like the one described above, is heavy and bulky. In addition, these systems often block the visible light.”

For photographers, this could mean lighter and smaller night vision lenses, making it easier to shoot in low-light settings. Even if the photographer doesn’t want to shoot with night vision on the camera, they can use it to better see what they’re doing in low-light scenarios, like astrophotography, or sessions in the evening or at night. Plus, it could have practical uses beyond the camera. For instance, photographers wouldn’t have to worry about walking to and from shooting locations in low light as much if they had smaller and more useful night vision glasses or night vision lenses over their regular eyewear.

“These results promise significant opportunities for the surveillance, autonomous navigation, and biological imaging industries, amongst others,” TMOS Chief Investigator Dragomir Neshev says.

Image credits: TMOS