DARPA launches ENVision program to transform night vision goggles

Night vision technology is nothing new, but despite modern innovations, the goggles remain fairly large and bulky. In addition to adding weight to a soldier's helmet and potentially putting a strain on their neck muscles, the goggles also have a small field of view, making it more tricky to evaluate one's surroundings. DARPA aims to change that.

In their present form, night vision goggles are shaped like binoculars and they are mounted on a soldier's helmet for quick access. The extra weight and bulk can cause 'significant neck strain' over time, according to DARPA Defense Sciences Office program manager Rohith Chandrasekar.

To change this, DARPA has introduced a new program called Enhanced Night Vision in Eyeglass Form (ENVision), which seeks lightweight night vision goggles that cover a wider IR bandwidth and includes a greater field of view. Ultimately, DARPA wants to 'break the paradigm' that increasing a pair of night vision goggles' performance must naturally increase its weight and size.

Whereas typical night vision goggles generally have a limited ability to see in darkness, DARPA's ENVision seeks an alternative that provides thermal vision, as well as the ability to see through dust, fog, and other similar obscuring factors. This will, ideally, all be made possible using a single 'flat lens,' DARPA says.

Program Manager Chandrasekar said:

If you've never worn NVGs for hours at a time imagine wearing a baseball cap all day with a two-pound weight attached to the front of the bill – that gives you a small sense of the stress experienced. Extended use of such systems leads to a condition where the neck no longer has the energy to keep the head upright requiring warfighters to use their hands to lift and point their heads.