Fighting wars in the dark could get a little less harrowing in the future. And a lot more cat-like. That is if the U.S. Army swaps out bulky night vision goggles for contact lenses that could also see things go bump in the night.
Yes, we’re talking featherweight futuristic night vision awesomeness here, Iron Man soldier suit style, without the hulking suit. They seem almost as cool as Google’s blood glucose-level tracking contacts.
Scientists at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering have invented a room-temperature light sensor that doesn’t require heavy cooling equipment to function. They recently published their research in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
The researchers achieved this (with help from their graduate students) by using graphene, the two-dimensional nanomaterial that the American Physical Society calls the “wonder material” of the future because it’s “a million times thinner than paper, stronger than diamond, more conductive than copper.”
So using graphene, on top of pioneering some innovative electrical signal amplification techniques, allowed researchers to create a thermal sensor “smaller than a pinky nail,” certainly light enough to incorporate into a “super-thin” contact lens prototype.
And, voila, we have infrared night vision contact lenses. Similar high-tech “cat vision” contacts might have been worn by Navy SEAL Team Six when they took out Osama Bin Laden during Operation Neptune Spear in May 2011.
The killer thermal vision contact lenses of the future aren’t quite ready yet for production, let alone mass production. Not until researchers can increase the range of temperatures they pick up on and the amount of light they’re sensitive to, which could take years, according to Wired. Then there’s the battle to lasso all of the proper safety approvals, along with courting partnerships with government agencies and private companies.
Researchers envision some interesting mass consumer uses for their ultra-light infrared sensor technology. They say it could be applied it to vehicle windshields to help drivers see better when driving at night. It could also be incorporated into smartphone cameras to snap infrared shots.
We didn’t think there’d be enough of a demand for thermographic photography for smartphone makers to bother, but there’s already budding market for it. There’s even an iPhone night vision adapter in the works.
What crazy apps and gadgets have you come across lately? Let us know by emailing us at FarOutTech@entrepreneur.com or by telling us in the comments below.