New night vision cams use heat, not light

March 28, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new kind of night vision camcorder is making its way into consumer hands this spring. Instead of amplifying low light, it takes video with heat.

Something is tearing up the lawns in one San Francisco neighborhood. It is hard to tell what it is because when the lights come on, it disappears. The only way to catch this guy in the act is with a proper night vision scope.

The green images people are used to seeing on television shows are made by amplifying low light, but a thermal (or infrared) camera works by turning heat into light. It "sees" temperature differences as little as 0.1 degree F.

Civilian use of this kind of night vision is expanding rapidly. Today, drivers use it to augment headlights. Mariners use it to navigate the ocean in the dark. High cost and low resolution were always issues, but the quality of night vision gear is going up quickly and the prices are coming down to the consumer level.

Now, there are true, purpose-built night vision camcorders. This spring, FLIR systems will release the Scout. It weighs less than a pound and a half, but provides four times the resolution of anything before it, runs on AA batteries (rechargeable, too) and records to a standard SD memory card. It's perfect for you-know who.

After 1 a.m., there he is in my night vision lens, doing some light landscaping. But what is this thing? A bush baby? A teddy bear? I can't identify it. I guess we'll have to wait for the High Definition version from FLIR.

Even though the Scout is almost $3,000, it's the lowest cost thermal camera of its size and weight and the first to qualify as a consumer model.


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