Published September 08, 2011
When hunting for terrorists, seeing them before they see you is a must.
Regular night-vision goggles are good, but not good enough. Sure, they let a soldier see at night as well as he would by day -- but they don't let him see any better. That just changed.
A new device developed over seven years by Optics1 gives warfighters "Predator"-style vision to better tag those terrorists and other threats. Only recently made available, the COTI (Clip On Thermal Imager) adds the ability to see thermal signals to to existing night-vision devices.
The human eye sees light with a wavelength between 400 and 700 nanometers, while a night-vision device may see up to around 900, closing in on the infrared range. The COTI amps the warfighter's vision into a whole different spectrum -- giving the soldier souped up, super vision.
COTI's long-wave infrared technology allows a warfighter to "see" even in pitch-black or no light conditions. By using an 8- through 10-micron range, it can give the user "sight" in spite of smoke, foliage, fog, rain and other conditions where standard devices provide only limited capability.
While basic camouflage can defeat ordinary night-vision devices, it can't fool the COTI's ability to detect thermal sources. It can even identify whether a vehicle or a room has been recently occupied by "seeing" residual heat signatures. Arguably even cooler, it can spot hand- and footprints invisible to the naked eye.
The COTI's ability to read temperature differences means it can also recognize recent ground disturbances indicating that an IED may have been planted and hidden.
Lurking in dark openings like windows and doorways may conceal a person from detection by a night-vision gadget, but the COTI can still see you. Hiding in a shadow, behind an object or undergrowth? Invisible to most "image-intensified" eyes, but the COTI can find you. Trying to hide a gun or explosive under your clothing? The COTI could immediately reveal the unseen threat.
Battle-proven, waterproof and tested in the harshest operating environments, the compact and super lightweight 5.8-oz COTI fits in the palm of your hand and can operate on one battery for three hours (or up to eleven with its auxiliary power supply).
While Hollywood films often show variants of green for image intensifiers, in real life -- when operating in desert conditions, for example -- many warfighters prefer hot to show as black. The COTI will allow them to customize colors.
The smart 'clip and go' thermal image overlay design means it could be easily attached to most of the over one million night-vision devices that are already out there for the U.S. Army. Without having to refit helmets with special gear, existing equipment could be leveraged and super-sighted up.
COTI's supersight comes in three modes: full thermal, patrol, and outline. The full thermal mode is perfect for a cave or other situations where there is minimal lighting. When a warfighter is moving from a dark environment with ambient light from stars or the moon to a completely black room that night-vision can't pierce, thermal imaging can provide a real advantage.
At night, thermal signals can still swamp a camera making it difficult to work out a target or a threat. In urban environments, heat will radiate off of buildings; in the jungle heat can radiate off of plants; and even in the desert, while it may be sweltering in the day and freezing at night, heat will still radiate off the ground, plants and cacti. The patrol mode can help solve this problem by essentially dumbing down the thermal read-out -- minimizing these potentially obscuring signals.
The very cool outline mode literally outlines thermal objects, meaning warfighters can use their laser targeting systems without their laser signal getting lost. It would be handy in both day and night.
It also has fantastic potential for a wide range of applications, from border patrol agents seeking illegals hiding in the dense Carrizo cane groundcover to helping firefighters "see" in smoke-obscured environments.
The COTI used as a stand-alone handheld gadget could be incredibly helpful to the U.S. Coast Guard as well as local, state and federal law enforcement for search and rescue.
And for the special operators out there, next-generation models may also be modified for use directly on a weapon -- also a very cool idea.
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has travelled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at email@example.com.