Smartphones are basically the Swiss army knives of the digital age, with new tools being added on a regular basis, and you may be able to add night vision to that ever-growing list of features here soon. Night vision cameras aren’t difficult to make, it’s making them affordable that’s the real challenge, but if Activision was able to add night vision goggles to the Veteran Edition of Modern Warfare 2, it’s not all that surprising that MIT may have found a way to bring night vision to smartphones without being prohibitively expensive.
Ever wonder why your smartphone doesn’t have night vision? I mean, it can’t be that advanced of a technology, right? They used night vision goggles in World War II, for crying out loud. My phone can recognize my face and read my fingerprint. Why no night vision? Well it turns out that even though night vision isn’t all that technically difficult, making it cheap and small is a bit of a hassle. The problem is cooling. Normal cameras behave very similarly to the human eye in that they detect light bouncing off of objects. If there’s no light source, they can’t see anything. However, night vision devices work differently. They detect infrared light that radiates off all warm bodies. The problem is that the sensors that detect this heat have to be kept really cool. Otherwise their view of the world would be blotted out by all the infrared noise of the devices containing them. Historically this has been done with a system of refrigerants, much like a liquid-cooled computer. That kind of technology is bulky and cumbersome, and it can get expensive.
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