A new approach to night vision: this scene is illuminated by laser.
Current automotive night vision systems allow drivers to see in the dark by using infrared cameras to capture thermal images of oncoming objects, but defense contractor Elbit Systems Ltd. (Haifa, Israel; www.elbit.co.il) thinks there is a better way. It has developed a gated laser-based system that it claims is more effective. "Unlike a thermal system which just shows you the heat of an object, our method gives a more realistic picture of the actual scene," explains Ofer David, head of Elbit's electro-optics group. Here's how it works: the unit sends out a laser pulse which illuminates the road ahead while a CCD camera records the scene. The laser and camera are synchronized so that the camera only records images from a pre-set distance ahead and is otherwise closed to extraneous information. David says this synchronization is key to helping the system see through fog and heavy rain. While far from perfect on that count, he says that forward visibility can be increased by 50% over what is normally visible to the naked eye. Right now Elbit only has a bulky roofrack-mounted prototype, so a lot of miniaturization work still needs to be done, and David confirms that the CCD camera will have to be replaced with a much cheaper CMOS unit to get the price where it needs to be for mass production. But the technology itself is proven inasmuch as the U.S. military currently uses Elbit-designed systems to illuminate nighttime battleground targets from as far away as 10 km.—KEW