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Boise, Idaho-based Aviation Specialties Unlimited (ASU) took the wraps off its new white phosphor night vision goggles (NVGs) during the 2014 Airborne Law Enforcement Association Expo in July. The product combines white phosphor technology with ASU’s AI image intensifier in L-3 ANVIS-9 Gen 3 goggles.
The traditional output display technology currently on most NVGs is based on a green phosphor known as P43, and the white phosphor is known as P45. Dr. Joseph Estrera, vice president and chief technology officer for new product development with ASU, said that P45 processes the image faster and at a higher contrast than P43.
The white phosphor leads to “much higher acuity to the human eye with black-on-white versus green,” noted Estrera. The prospective safety implications of a clearer image could be huge, he added. “If you have the ability to see objects with greater definition and greater clarity at lower light levels, then you’re able to, for example, see the difference between a twig or a wire.” Estrera added that ASU’s testing has shown that white phosphor also tends to reduce eye fatigue over long periods.
The reason green phosphor was chosen as the background color for NVGs dates back to early night vision systems, according to Estrera. When the technology first came out, the image intensifier tubes performed so poorly that the military “had to pick a phosphor that offered the greatest amount of response to the eye, which was green,” he explained. Over time, military and civil operators “stayed with green, and never really went back and looked at the other options that were available,” he added.
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On top of that, Estrera said the green phosphor and white phosphor perform similarly in laboratory conditions from a radiometric standpoint, so some of the potential improvements didn’t become apparent until tested over time inside a moving aircraft. “This technology was developed almost a decade and a half ago, and I think that’s what sort of stalled it — the early evaluators just thought it was about the same from a static laboratory standpoint, and they never really took it up in an aircraft or with test pilots to evaluate it,” he said.
Still, Estrera understands that such new technology in an established product may be greeted with caution in some quarters. “It’s the usual technological inertia that goes along with trying to adopt something new and different,” he remarked. ASU wants operators to determine for themselves what the best color is for their needs, he added. “You have both. Evaluate it for yourself. That tends to be the best approach when talking about this technology.”
ASU began the process of gaining Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification for the new goggles in March 2014, and Estrera said it has experienced no “show-stoppers” so far, and was progressing at the rate expected of any new product qualifying process. ASU is taking orders for the white phosphor NVGs into the fourth quarter, with deliveries scheduled to begin before the end of the year.