As the Pentagon continues to build a lighter, faster and stronger soldier of the future, new technology that could provide night vision without bulky goggles has caught the Army’s eye.
Researchers at the University of Michigan, Ted Norris and Zhaohui Zhong, have created a super-thin infrared light sensor using graphene — an atom-thin material related to graphite — that could be layered onto contact lenses. Graphene absorbs infrared rays and translates them into an electrical signal, in a similar fashion to how silicon chips work with visible light in a digital camera.
The team of engineers and computer scientists placed an insulating layer between two graphene layers and then added electric current. When infrared light hits the layered product, its electrical reaction is amplified strongly enough to be converted into a visible image.
“If we integrate it with a contact lens or other wearable electronics, it expands your vision,” said Zhong. “It provides you another way of interacting with your environment.”
Night vision contacts are still years away — the research needs to produce greater light sensitivity, as well as the ability to work in a broader range of temperatures.
To move the project forward, Norris and Zhong say they need commercial or governmental partners beyond the initial support that came from the National Science Foundation. They say that the technology could have widespread application, including smartphone cameras for photos in the dark and car windshields to enhance nighttime driving.
In 2011, some speculated that “cat vision” contact lenses were used by the Navy Seals in the Osama bin Laden raid.