In 1985, the predecessor organization to Raytheon Commercial Infrared took up the challenge of converting a very expensive military technology into an option suitable for automotive use that could be commercialized in an automotive cost range. The outcome was Night Vision, introduced on the 2000 Cadillac DeVille, which will also soon appear as an option for heavy trucks in partnership with Bendix.
Night Vision senses heat differences of ±0.3Cº of targets at a distance up to 500 yards, three or more times beyond the range of ordinary headlights. White-on-dark images are projected to scale on a small heads-up display just below the driver’s field of external vision through the windshield, and these are visible when it is dark. Without distraction, drivers can see people, animals, vehicles, or anything emitting heat, and take appropriate action. Normally they would have to wait for such objects to appear in headlights. Images are sized (scaled) to be the same as seen by normal vision, so that a driver will judge distance accurately, and the driver controls make it easy to use.
The innovation was to convert large expensive technology into a small IR-sensing chip and camera that mounts in a vehicle grille, so it is unseen. The size of the unit continues to decrease, the result of a long technical development program, both in product design and in production technology. Although infrared technology has long been associated with defense applications, Raytheon Commercial Infrared holds the patents on the miniaturization that has now brought it to practicality for automotive use. Both the technical hurdles and the investments were large ones.
Over the next few years, Raytheon Commercial Infrared is positioned to put Night Vision in an increasing number of vehicles. The present innovation is significant both for driver convenience and safety, and infrared is a promising technology for incorporation in future systems of vehicle control.