What if…and “Next-Generation Night Vision”

As discussed here in an article by Wired magazine, the next generation of night vision is currently under development.

Traditional night vision works by amplifying ambient light. Such technology has been around for nearly 50 years and is widely available commercially. The latest generation (already available to some members of the U.S. military) include thermal sensors. These sensors go beyond the detection of a fully camouflaged sniper, hot gun barrels, and running vehicles. The thermal sensors are so sensitive that they can detect shoes recently taken off, or even the heat reflected off a window or mirror from a passing person. It could even detect recently turned over dirt–making IEDs potentially easier to spot.

Even cooler, the next generation of night vision will include a 800 x 600 SVGA display. This will work as a heads up display (HUD) that could show soldiers insurgents’ mugshots, battlefield maps, locations of enemies and allies, or drone footage. Even better, what the soldier sees in his goggles can be transmitted to a nearby commander, or possibly even further–the article implies that the President could view POV footage of the next Bin-Laden-type raid live.

I would imagine the addition of a HUD to be tremendously valuable to a soldier–the mugshots are certainly better than using a deck of cards. I also wonder what other information can be put in the HUD. As translation software improves, perhaps soldiers can get subtitles? Could the soldier take a photo of people he meets, tag that photo with relevant info, and submit it to a database for evaluation? Could some of this be done automatically, with photos taken at regular intervals that incorporate the soldier’s GPS (other tags could be added later during a debriefing)? Could the HUD run a facial recognition algorithm against an image, without the soldier having to recall the mugshot he saw in a briefing long ago?

I also wonder how this will affect a commander’s responsibilities, though. As all this information is coming in (from dones, soldiers, satellites, etc.) and going out to those who can use it, the commander becomes an information processor and coordinator. While this is not a new concept, I’m curious as to how commanders will handle the exponential increase in available information that will need to be processed. How will they input information, evaluate it, and distribute it quickly and correctly? How much can be done automatically? How much will the commander need to personally view or decide upon? What if a legal opinion is necessary?

What do you think? How will front line soldiers and commanders use the next generation of night vision? What benefits and potential problems do you see arising?

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