ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - The development of night vision technology, which began during World War II, expanded the environments in which the United States military could operate because night missions were now possible giving the Soldier an advantage over adversaries.

Today the military still depends on technological advancements that enable service members to see better in their surroundings, whether day, night or in a degraded visual environment. The Army continues to research, develop and refine sensor and display technologies suitable for the Soldier.

The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center's Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate, or CERDEC NVESD, is a Department of Defense lead for sensor development and the DOD and world leader in electro-optic/infrared sensors and EO/IR sensors electronics, said Dr. Donald Reago, CERDEC NVESD director.

"As an organization, we are responsible for development of technologies and system prototypes," said Reago to an international civilian and military audience at the annual SPIE Defense Security and Sensing conference in Baltimore, Maryland April 21.

Reago highlighted key technology areas and trends for NVESD and addressed the challenges and benefits of emerging sensors technologies.

"Today's average Soldier out in the field has a pair of image intensified goggles," Reago said. "He or she has a night vision goggle that works in the near infrared. The technology has been around for 40 years; it works phenomenally well in terms of amplifying starlight and ambient light and producing it within your eye. There's no analog, there's no digital - light comes in, light comes out."

There are setbacks though to the legacy goggle technology in the field, as it does not have thermal capabilities and there is not a seamless transition for Soldiers using goggles from day to night or for use at a distance or close up. These setbacks are what current technology developments are working to improve, said Reago.

For example, the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle, or ENVG, system includes an image intensified channel and a thermal channel allowing for an uncooled image and an optical overlay to be combined with the output of the camera sent to a small display that can be combined and the image intensified; however, it doesn't have a full digital capability.

"Where we would like to go to is something which is more of a digital sensor- the helmet mounted display, or helmet mounted imager, and then digital sensors beaming that display," Reago said. "My goal is to move to a system that has a camera in the back, it can have a sensor, light display, it has storage capability, memory capability and it runs software applications. This is what our military Soldiers are growing up with and this is the future. People probably expect this capability, and we have to look at these capabilities today in a military context."

NVESD is aiming for more efficient low-obscuration and see-through optics that are ruggedized for head-worn displays. They also need to allow for rapid target acquisition, improved pilotage, symbology and improved situational awareness, all while having high efficiency display light throughput, reduced weight and wide field of view.

"The lab has worked with companies on not only the combiners, but the image source. A most recent technology is a micro-OLED [organic light-emitting diode], high-brightness, wide format," Reago said. "I think we are making tremendous progress in this area, and I'm very comfortable that in the next few years we are going to have very robust display solutions that will enable this digital capability."

In addition to combiners and imagers, NVESD is continuing to advance Digital Read Out Integrated Circuit technology and solve the problem of low-contrast imaging where signals are lowered due to such factors such as a degraded visual environment.

"We want to push this technology and get U.S. industry converted over to digital read out technology. We are in the beginnings of that process; we have a long way to go. Many companies are making investments on their own, and we are trying to stir up just as much service support as we can," Reago said.

"We work a lot with manufacturing technology with industry to try to get technologies in the hand of the warfighter. For us in the Army, affordability is key. It's very important that we be able to acquire technology at relatively low costs in large quantities," Reago said.

Reago predicts sensor technologies for the Soldier will keep improving through continued research and investments by the Army, DOD and industry.

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The Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.

RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness-technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment-to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.