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Transportation Technology Science

OLED Film Could Provide Cheap Night Vision For Cars 120

Posted by timothy
from the want-sunglasses-like-this dept.
thecarchik writes "Night vision systems are already available in the higher-end luxury sedans from companies like Toyota, Volvo, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. It's expensive technology that few drivers can afford, and at $4,000 for the system without a display, it's a pricey upgrade. That may all change soon, as DARPA-funded scientists have developed a cheap way to turn any infrared light into visible light with a thin film."
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OLED Film Could Provide Cheap Night Vision For Cars

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  • by pitchpipe (708843) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:20PM (#32034268)

    Night vision systems are already available in the higher-end luxury sedans from companies like Toyota, Volvo, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but it's expensive technology that few drivers can afford, but at $4,000 for the system without a display, it's a pricey upgrade.

    Sometimes I will proofread my comments, and sometimes I will read them over again just to make sure there are no mistakes.

    • So tell me again what a night vision system for seeing in the darkness does? I'm thinking it has something to do with sight, and maybe night time, but I'm not sure.
    • by srussia (884021)
      The money quote is: That may all change soon, as Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded scientists at the University of Florida have developed a cheap way to turn any infrared light into visible light with a thin film.
      • by robot256 (1635039)
        Those scientists are such cheap bastards! Let's see them try that on an infrared photon in a FAIR fight!
      • by CAIMLAS (41445)

        I don't care how cheap it is; it's still going to make vehicle maintenance expensive.

        If you want a device like this, chances are you're either a) out and about on back roads and want animal detection and/or b) spend a lot of time on the highway/interstate/lonely stretches of road where hitting animals or having a HUD would be useful - like a roadtrip. These are scenarios where you're more likely to get rocks thrown at your windshield, causing a crack.

        A windshield repair costs, what... $150? And a new one co

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by iamhassi (659463)
      "sometimes I will read them over again just to make sure there are no mistakes."

      And sometimes I try to get my facts straight, like that Toyota [google.com] and Volvo [google.com] does not offer Night Vision at all (only on concepts), and Mercedes and BMW just started offering it in 2006, but Cadillac offered Night Vision 10 years ago on the 2000 DTS [theautochannel.com] :
      "on the DTS, and options include a better-than-average navigation system and the "Night Vision" system, which features the first civilian use of infrared thermal-imaging technolog
  • What night-vision goggles could end up looking like

    http://www.fixandweld.com/images/SSP11.jpg [fixandweld.com]

  • Is there a typo in TFA here?
    "The result is a monochromatic green-tinted view of the area in front of it."

    But the image caption under the green-tinted rendering is "Conventional night vision image, via David Kitson, Creative Commons 3.0". Plus, it looks pretty grainy/low-res compared to the newer BW rendering which is captioned "New 7-series to feature high-tech night vision system".

    Regardless, if the IR image is overlaid onto the screen (HUP) display, mightn't oncoming traffic lights be blinding and actuall

    • by omnichad (1198475)

      I doubt it's a typo. Neither picture uses the OLED technology. The 7 series has a high-tech night vision system, but it's not OLED. If you read on...

      So far they've only managed to make a tiny 1-square-centimeter example, but due to the OLED technology underpinning it, it should be scalable to much larger sizes--and the scientists behind the discovery think they can do it within 18 months.

    • by canajin56 (660655)

      As others have mentioned, the second image isn't of the new tech, which isn't scaled up enough for a prototype yet. The top image is from the 7-series, as you've already noted. The reason it's so crisp is that it uses Active Illumination Infrared. This works by having headlights that are so bright, they would be illegal if they were emitting any visible light. As it happens, they are absurdly bright, but only in the near-infrared band (NIR). Then, an infrared CCD device records the NIR levels, and con

      • by GrpA (691294)

        Actually, most car headlights throw out phenomenal amounts of near-IR energy - usually far more than is visible ( unless they are LED headlights ) - I built an IR driving system into my Starion over a decade ago as a project.

        However, what is important is how sensitive the receiver/camera/tube/film etc is to the IR light and at what frequency.

        Also, the green image in the picture is grainy because:

        a) It was taken through an ESI Inverter tube, such as was invented around 1970... Sensitivity 270 uA/lm.
        b) Most o

    • If you have an OLED overlay, you also have a dynamic brightness blocker that can tint itself to dim blinding objects.

      What they don't mention is how they'll introduce focus to the system. I suspect we'll see see another filter layer of millions of tiny tubes or tiny lenses.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I suspect we'll see see another filter layer of millions of tiny tubes or tiny lenses.

        So you're saying that the technology requires a nano-Internet?

  • by your_neighbor (1193249) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:27PM (#32034372)

    If the OLED is already there, you can use it to display all kind of virtual stuff:
    GPS
    Ads
    Traffic Info
    Hookers
    Create beautyfull landscapes in polluted areas

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by FlyingBishop (1293238)

      It sounds like this is not an actual display, just a film that translates infrared light into visible light when it is supplied with power.

      • by sconeu (64226)

        Wouldn't you be blinded by the hood?

        • by nschubach (922175)

          Please, just because the buildings may be out of repair and the sidewalks covered in graffiti doesn't mean it's blinding. /badpun

          It is a good question though. Is infrared generated by the heat of an engine or are you referring to the reflected light from other sources? If reflected, I would imagine it would be no worse than a sunny day.

          • by sconeu (64226)

            I was referring to engine heat.

            And that was a fun pun, by the way.

          • by CAIMLAS (41445)

            I suspect that the actual infrared sensors would be mounted in front of the vehicle and telemetric computation would be performed to put the thermal image up in a representative fashion.

            Of course, it would still be almost useless during warmer months, particularly in more developed areas. The ambient temperature of a road can remain well over 100F throughout the night, and the air a similar temperature, even if it drops into the 70s. I have no doubt it's worth in the South. Any critters on the road would be

      • by fluffy99 (870997)

        If it's just pixles glowing in the presence of incident IR, it would be worthless. You lose the whole concept of what direction the IR came from and end up with the equivalent of major glare on a smeary windsheild.

    • I was talking to a co-worker about this a couple years ago. What I was hoping would come out is a GPS device that would display on your windshield. When you are driving down the road that path would actually "light up" while you're driving on it. When you come to an intersection and need to know which particular street you need to go down that one would light up. Of course it'd have to be smart enough to let cars and obstacles show through.
      • by Rallion (711805)

        In order to really work well, something like that would also have to have head tracking in order to draw in the right place, and ideally the positioning system and the map itself would be extremely accurate (more accurate than they currently are). Not at all impossible, but I'm not sure it would work well enough to be worth doing quite yet.

        • by nschubach (922175)

          With the current upcoming game console wars is the technology that does just that. It's actually been around for some time and only needs a camera facing the driver that can extrapolate facial features in a very easy "low tech" way of video filtering.

      • by robot256 (1635039)
        Sure, you could have it show "right turn" and "left turn" arrows and distance remaining in a heads-up display, but augmented-reality overlays are way too dangerous with today's inaccurate map and position data--what if your "yellow brick road" goes through a ditch or a stopped truck?
    • Don't forget porn!
    • Traffic Info
      Hookers
      Create beautyfull landscapes in polluted areas

      Spell-check Slashdot postings composed while driving

  • How could this be used for cars, unless everyone drives around with their headlights off at night? Besides the headlights, the heat from the cars' engines would also produce a very bright result in IR, no?
    • It's converting infrared to visible light, it isn't a light amplification system (where headlights would cause blinding glare). If people are running headlights, then the front end of their car will be slightly warmer, that's all. You want the heat from the cars themselves to show up; enough morons forget to turn on their lights that being able to see them regardless of lighting is a good thing. TFA is light on details, but I suspect it would overlay infrared hot spots on the regular light being let through
    • How could this be used for cars, unless everyone drives around with their headlights off at night? Besides the headlights, the heat from the cars' engines would also produce a very bright result in IR, no?

      OLEDs, like all display technologies, have a limited range from brightest light to darkest dark. It wont simply "amplify all light by 100X" - it can't. at some point, highlights will get clipped. It's just like lens flare on a camera. Looking at a picture of the sun won't blind you, even though the real thing will.
      Oncoming headlights might wash out the screen temporarily, but real headlights can do that, too.

    • How could this be used for cars, unless everyone drives around with their headlights off at night?

      Depending on the time of day, weather, etc. headlights aren't as useful as they could be. And even under the best of circumstances there's a limit to just how much is illuminated by your headlights. Anything that can increase your visibility is a good thing.

      Besides the headlights, the heat from the cars' engines would also produce a very bright result in IR, no?

      You've got to put the camera somewhere. It would probably be possible to place the camera far enough to the front of the car that you aren't seeing the hat coming off of the hood.

      Or you could maybe do some digital processing to block out that heat sou

      • by sconeu (64226)

        It would probably be possible to place the camera far enough to the front of the car that you aren't seeing the hat coming off of the hood.

        But if I left my hat on the hood, I'd want to see it go flying off, so I would know where to pick it up!

    • by canajin56 (660655)
      It's not light amplification, headlights won't overload it and blind it/you. As TFS says, high end cars already have expensive night vision systems, where a film on the windshield has a projector overlay the screen with a shot from the IR camera. To show inanimate objects better, there is also a set of IR lights to illuminate, in addition to normal headlights. And yeah, engines and pedestrians glow pretty bright on these displays. That's the damn point. It's not blinding, because the total amount of in
    • by blincoln (592401)

      The authors of TFA (and the source article they based it on) confuse the issue by assuming that all infrared is the same thing. Based on the "green glow" look and the "830nm illumination" mentioned in another post, this system is working with near-infrared light (like conventional night vision systems), which is completely different from thermal infrared systems.
      This system will not function as a thermal imager. If something is very hot (just below the point of glowing incandescently in visible light), it w

  • Hopefully they'll also engineer it to compensate for jerks who drive with their brights on. I find on-coming headlights dazzling enough already without amplification, thank you.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bugs2squash (1132591)
      No - instead some idiot will think that it's fine to put ultrabright IR lights spraying light all over the road, because no-one can see it, right ! This system will be ruined by its own widespread adoption.
      • by djdanlib (732853)

        Don't the regular bulbs spray a lot of light in the near IR field anyway? Are these sensors operating on a band of IR that regular headlights aren't pouring out? Yeah, I know, some idiot is going to get lights that dump on the same band the sensors use and it will nullify the usefulness of said sensor system in some situations, I get it.

        Better get a mop, all that spraying and pouring and dumping sounds messy...

      • by canajin56 (660655)
        Normal headlights are fairly focused. The infrared lamps used for Active Illumination nightvision are very widebeam. So, I don't think their lamps will result in localized bright spots, but rather, just everything being brighter. I'd hope that they thought of other people having the system, and as such, designed it to adjust the total brightness of the display to match the overall brightness of the image.
      • by steelfood (895457)

        I think GP was saying it could replace the high beam. The infrared imaging system can be switched off when the infrared high beam is off as well, so that when you're driving towards me with your infrared brights, I'll still only see your normal headlights so long as my infrared brights are off.

        And because in suburban and rural areas, you can turn these up without bothering people inside a building, you can have them project farther, to the point where you can spot that deer headed straight for the road from

    • by canajin56 (660655)
      Nothing is being amplified. This isn't like nightvision goggles, it's Active Illumination Infrared: You can only non-hot things because there are powerful infrared lamps bathing the scene in (invisible to everything but the camera) light.
  • This will make spotting vamps and zombies in traffic easy, and people with SARS, fever etc... just like the body heat scanners in some Asian airports.
  • Forget cars, how long will it be before I can a pair of eyeglasses with this coating? The night vision coating could go on one side of the lenses, and the anti-glare coating goes on the other side. What more could a geek need?
  • Journal Article (Score:3, Informative)

    by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @02:48PM (#32034788)
    For those with access, the media report is based on this paper:
    Organic Infrared Upconversion Device [wiley.com], Do Young Kim, Dong Woo Song, Neetu Chopra, Pieter De Somer, Franky So. Advanced Materials 2010, 22, p.1-4. DOI 10.1002/adma.200903312 [doi.org]

    The abstract is:

    Novel infrared-to-visible light upconversion devices are demonstrated by fabricating an organic light-emitting diode with an infrared-sensitizing layer. With a SnPc:C60 mixed layer as an infrared absorber and fac-tris(2-phenylpyridinato) iridium (III) (Irppy3) as an emitter, an infrared-to-green up-conversion device is demonstrated under 830-nm irradiation (see figure, ITO=indium tin oxide). The maximum photon-to-photon conversion efficiency is 2.7% at 15V.

    This is good development, to be sure... but I think TFA exaggerates by saying that the device can be so thin that it can be placed on a windshield. In order to be used for something like night-vision, you'll need some kind of lens/optics as well. This material will not maintain the directionality of light as it is converted (from IR to visible), so you can't just "look through" it and see a night-vision version of the world. But you could use a lens to focus an infrared image onto the film, and look at the visible-light emission from the film. Still, this technology should be able to help make night-vision systems smaller and cheaper.

    It's also disappointing how media reports of new sci/tech developments insist on focusing on one possible application. It obscures the real potential. For instance, lighter/cheaper IR-to-vis conversion would not just be cool for night driving, but also for emergency workers, home security systems, scientific instruments (the journal article also lists "semiconductor wafer inspection"), optical computing, and so on...

    • This is good development, to be sure... but I think TFA exaggerates by saying that the device can be so thin that it can be placed on a windshield.

      Yeah, I don't know what's up with the car angle. I see what they did and I think "night vision goggles that are just goggles! Finally!" (as opposed to the bulky getup currently available).

      • Yeah, the fact that they didn't address the directionality of light makes me assume they didn't solve that problem. So you can't just slap the film on a windshield and have night vision, you need to project an IR image on the windshield (in which case the image would only be relevant for the driver.) A lot less exciting than they make it sound.
        • by KeithJM (1024071)
          But it would work just like regular light, right? When regular light hits the windshield, with our binocular vision we can judge distance, etc. If IR was emanating from an object and a film on the windshield turned it into visible light, the whole binocular vision thing should still work, right? This isn't my field, so I may be missing something.
          • The problem is that the IR-to-visible conversion doesn't maintain directionality of the light. Normally a visible light photon hits the windshield, travels through it, and comes out the other end going in the same direction (well, slightly shifted due to refraction). But with this upconversion film, an IR photon would hit the film, and be converted into a visible-light photon... but that visible light photon will now be traveling in a totally different (effectively random) direction.

            Since each "pixel" on
            • There is actually a very simple way to capture/replay wavefronts for which this technology is ideally suited, integral imaging.

              You simply put an exactly aligned integral lens array in front and at the back and you're done. You need very high resolution of course, but because the pixels are so simple and completely independent that's not a problem. You would probably want to use diffractive instead of refractive lenses so you can get a decent viewing angle, but again that is no problem here because you are o

              • On second thought ... the image could look great ... from outside. From the inside the direction of travel of the light is mirrored around the center of the integral lens. I guess you need one more lens to flip it back.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by CrazyColin (1261612)
            See the reply "No, this won't work." It's akin to a frosted piece of glass or translucent plastic. Light enters the film but directionality is not preserved because OLEDs cannot choose where the light goes, they just emit in all directions at once. Optics is not an easy thing to explain or understand fully, which is why so few people picked up on why this doesn't work. I'll try though. Transparency in optics means that light can get through something without being scattered. That is, emitted photons h
            • by bar-agent (698856)

              It's akin to a frosted piece of glass or translucent plastic. Light enters the film but directionality is not preserved because OLEDs cannot choose where the light goes, they just emit in all directions at once.

              It doesn't seem like this would be much of an issue. I can think of two solutions. One solution is to separate the OLED elements so they form a halftone screen. Each OLED element would be a point source of light so the directionality of its output wouldn't matter so much. Another solution is to put a

              • by bar-agent (698856)

                ...a third solution is kind of the inverse of the second. If you are worried about lateral light from the OLED making everything a blur, just coat the film in material that doesn't let lateral light out, but instead directs it out of the film's edge using internal reflection.

                • As I said, this stuff is hard to explain (and I seem to have failed).

                  I overemphasized the importance of the OLED's ability to emit light in a specific direction. As you know, OLEDs emitting light in all directions are perfectly fine for TVs and such, so they are absolutely capable of creating an image. And yes, there exists technology to make that image only viewable under a small range of viewing angles. This technology is probably not advanced enough to restrict the viewing to only the driver of the
                  • by bar-agent (698856)

                    I hope that helps. In order to display an image, you have to fist capture an image to display. And you can't capture an image with an unadorned array of sensors unless the thing you're imaging is sidled right up next to the array.

                    Ah. I was thinking in terms of a HUD or an augmented reality display, not redisplaying an infrared image in visible wavelengths. I assumed there would be a scanning IR beam to light up the OLED elements.

                    From the article, it sounds like each OLED element includes its own IR sensor,

                    • The incoming light from a light source at 50 meter at different points on the window is going to vary in intensity by less than 1%.

                    • Oh, yeah, with the scanning beam it'd work fine. The image would still have to be captured from the perspective of the driver somehow and it wouldn't be relevant to anyone but the driver, but it would work. Since it didn't mention that I assumed the film itself was supposed to be a standalone night vision apparatus.

                      As far as the second paragraph, what you're talking about definitely works, but only when the lights are up close. In this case, the light right on top of an element will illuminate that el
              • The light doesn't just have to be directional ... you have to do something similar to holography. The angular spectrum of the outgoing light has to be the same as the incoming light at a given point on the window (although it can be quantized a bit, like with integral imaging).

                • by bar-agent (698856)

                  The light doesn't just have to be directional ... you have to do something similar to holography. The angular spectrum of the outgoing light has to be the same as the incoming light at a given point on the window

                  What's an "angular spectrum?"

                  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angular_spectrum_method [wikipedia.org]

                    It's a way to describe a propagating wavefront, probably not a good choice of words.

                    What I meant to say was that for any given point on the window the intensity of light coming from any given direction has to be output at the same intensity and in the same direction on the other side. For all positions and directions at the same time ... you can quantize the spatial and angular resolutions a bit, but simply using a directional LED doesn't cut it.

                    As I said

    • I don't see what's the point really ... the optics are the bulkiest parts. Instead of focusing an image on a tiny CCD it would have to cover the entire display. A normal camera plus LCD display or HUD projection on the windscreen make a lot more sense.

    • by svtdragon (917476)
      This is slashdot. Our effort is minimized when the car analogy is already in the summary.
    • by blincoln (592401)

      For instance, lighter/cheaper IR-to-vis conversion would not just be cool for night driving, but also for emergency workers, home security systems, scientific instruments (the journal article also lists "semiconductor wafer inspection"), optical computing, and so on...

      Essentially any digital camera sensor (including webcams) can pick up the type of infrared light that this device does (~1000nm). I'm a little confused about how it could get any cheaper. If this device could also pick up mid- and far-infrared

  • sunglasses (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Screw night vision windscreens. I want some night vision sunglasses!

  • If they are OLEDs, they emit light relatively isotropically. So infrared light hitting the film would be turned into visible light, but it would be completely diffused -- like if you had a piece of translucent plastic. The only way it could work if the light was transformed in frequency but kept the same direction.

    • by Kratisto (1080113)
      Oh great. Next you're going to tell me that there won't be any jetpacks, flying cars, or invisibility cloaks.
  • As someone who has demonstrated a FLIR in a science fair, I can tell you that far infrared is quite an interesting wavelength to explore body shapes...Too bad that even the cheapest 160X200 model is at least $2K (a drop of a factor 10 in 5 years, but still). It allows to pinpoint the location of certain points quite accurately, the more so if the person imaged starts to blush. Sweaty areas come out as black as much colder than the surroundings. So basically the question is : at which wavelength does this m
  • People who work with non-visible IR or UV lasers can use special tools that fluoresce visibly when contacted by a laser of the appropriate wavelength.

    There are specially coated cardboard cards, as well as small disks that can be placed in lens holders on an optical breadboard.

    http://thorlabs.com/NewGroupPage9.cfm?ObjectGroup_ID=296 [thorlabs.com]

  • Just don't ever turn on the defroster.
  • There is a difference.

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