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Engineers test night goggles

By Liz Crumbley

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 14 - December 1, 1994

The military advantages of night-vision technology were dramatically illustrated in the films of nocturnal forays by U.S. Air Force bombers during Desert Storm in 1990. Researchers in the College of Engineering are testing the limitations of night-vision goggles so that the technology can be improved for U.S. military and non-military uses.

Robert J. Beaton, director of the Displays and Controls Laboratory in the Human Factors Program of Tech's Industrial and Systems Engineering Department, developed about 17 prototypes of night-vision imagery sensors for the U.S. Army before Desert Storm. Since then, Beaton's laboratory has received equipment support from ITT Electro-Optical Products Division of Roanoke, which manufactures night-vision equipment.

Beaton's is one of the few labs in the world that can conduct the full range of optical measurement tests and evaluations, coupled with human-factors evaluations that determine how technology can best be modified for human use.

Beaton is testing the depth-perception and visual-acuity limitations of night-vision goggles. A major topic in the on-going research is how well people can see images in depth. Beaton's lab also is attacking the night-vision problems of optical distortions and graininess, caused by the fact that light reflects off of different objects at different intensities.

The potential non-military uses are numerous. Law-enforcement officers use the goggles for night patrols. When the goggles become affordable for civilians, homeowners will be able to use them for home-security purposes. ITT already produces a line of night-vision goggles for use on boats.