In a recent interview with Rick Bryant, Director of Advanced Programs at Rochester Precision Optics, Rick shared his outlook for night vision systems and the advancements in imaging technologies he’ll be watching at SHOT Show this January.
Through his work in developing the CNOD day/night optics product line, his service in the United States Marine Corps and nearly 20 years as the Director of Visual Augmentation Systems for Naval Special Warfare Development Group, Rick offers a unique perspective on night vision systems for use in security and defense applications.
What can we expect from Rochester Precision Optics at this year’s SHOT Show?
This year we added a new feature to the CNOD that we will unveil at SHOT Show. We put a disturbed reticle in the CNOD and we’re interfacing it with a laser range finder/ballistic solution. That will add a new dimension, giving us three levels of CNOD: the RSM, the LD and now the disturbed reticle, or DR. Also at SHOT Show, we will be looking for new applications of CMOS technology. The CNOD was first of its kind by far; digital technology is finally gaining traction.
Are there other new technologies you’re watching?
We’re looking at compact commercial thermal. We’re currently using commercially available thermal cores and we’re also looking at lightweight optics and freeform optics. Our work in freeform optics will impact all kinds of markets, including the military market and life sciences.
You’re showcasing the CNOD illuminator at this show. Where are you seeing the most traction with CNOD?
Just recently we were approved for license in nine different countries, which all have interest in CNOD. We unveiled the illuminator for the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) last year. The mission was to illuminate a pickup truck at 1000 meters in pitch-black darkness. We did just that. Now if anybody doubts that CMOS digital technology can see in low light, we just happen to have an illuminator that enables it to do so while also being out-of-band.
What do you see as “next” for night vision?
Night vision is going digital. Everything is going digital. Within the next five years—and that’s like a blink of an eye in the world of night vision—digital is going to be on the battlefield. There’s also a lot of interest in color night vision. There’s always been operator preference toward green or white, but many see color as offering more resolution and more situational awareness. Intensification is always going to be there, but customers are slowly moving away from image intensification because its capabilities are maxed out. With digital, you can have augmented reality, you can have video capture, you can have picture capture; at the same time you can put it out to other media—whatever you’re viewing.
What kinds of questions are customers asking about the CNOD?
Will it really see in low light? I recently talked to some operators who said, “Well, we understand that there’s lag and we understand that we can’t see in low light, we know CMOS technology,” to which I said, “When is the last time you looked at CMOS technology?” “Oh, four or five years ago.” Four or five years ago is like a lifetime in this field of technology. The CNOD can see in low light, it can see in quarter-moon, it can see in starlight. Moreover, if you put an out-of-band illuminator on it you can see in total darkness. So the myth is that you can’t see in low light. The other myth is lag. When you’re taking a picture with your cell phone, is there any lag? Today’s CMOS technology has largely eliminated lag.
What are you seeing as the major drivers for adoption of the CNOD? Is it weight?
Weight and size. Digital is small. It’s still power-hungry, it needs batteries. But believe it or not, as everything else has moved forward, so has battery technology. Rechargeable, flexible batteries can now power anything you have. Your iPhone stays powered, does it not? CMOS is getting smaller, your board sets are getting smaller, your digital sets are getting smaller; so all of this becomes micro-volts and micro-amps. Now instead of 4 hours of lifespan, you’ve got 8, 12, 13, 15 hours—and that’s what it takes to do a combat mission and or a SOF operation.
With such a low price point, what applications do you think will take hold first, outside of the battlefield?
The CNOD’s price point will make it a great JTAC commodity. The disturbed reticle that we’re installing is going to make the CNOD ideal for a day and night weapons sight—you won’t need two sights. The challenge is to convince the operator that he can look at a monitor and do his job, instead of using direct-view optics.
Learn more about the CNOD, or check it out for yourself at Wilcox Industries Range Day at SHOT.