UCF researcher to collaborate with MIT on DARPA night vision project

The four-year project is a collaboration between the laboratory of Michael Leuenberger at UCF and the laboratory of Dirk R. Englund at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It is funded by a $1.1 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

“The glasses that currently exist in the field are too heavy and bulky,” says Leuenberger. “We are offering technology that will solve this problem, while advancing what currently exists in the field of night vision technology.”

Night vision technology has come a long way since its conception during World War II, when infrared searchlights were so heavy that soldiers mounted them on flatbed trucks.

Leuenberger notes that despite the fact that night vision technology is now accessible in the form of a wearable helmet, the problem of injuries and lack of mobility is still present.

Today’s night vision optics weigh around 2 pounds, often resulting in chronic spinal strain and limited mobility for wearers.

According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Aerospace Medicine and Human Performancescientists have found that night vision equipment worn by US Air Force pilots causes chronic stress on the cervical vertebrae, especially under the strain of high Gs flight maneuvers.

The envisioned night vision goggles will change current night vision technology in three main areas: the weight will be close to sunglasses, allowing for rapid head movements; Night vision will be extended from near infrared (NIR) to all infrared bands with wavelength selectivity, meaning classic night vision green will extend to the full red-green-blue spectrum; The peripheral vision range expands considerably.

Obtaining a prototype will take years and will start with a proof of concept. Leuenberger’s lab is responsible for the theoretical modeling and calculations that will serve as a model for the overall design of the glasses. Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI) Englund and his group at MIT collaborate with Leuenberger’s group on theoretical modeling and work on experiments.

For several years, Leuenberger has applied its expertise in nonlinear optics to various projects. In particular, his work on four-wave mixing in semiconductor quantum wells and plasmonics is what he refers to as the backbone of this project.

The first two years will be heavily focused on design and theoretical modeling that serves as a blueprint for the eyewear. Leuenberger and his team will perform test calculations, such as ab-initio quantum material calculations and finite-difference time-domain simulations, which will determine the overall structure of the prototype construct.

Leuenberger is an expert in the fields of nonlinear optics, theoretical condensed matter physics, multi-scale computational modeling of electronic and optical properties of quantum materials, quantum information science and quantum optics. Leuenberger was DARPA Young Investigator in 2008 and co-PI on the 2018 DARPA WIRED project, for which he co-developed an ultrasensitive and ultrafast photodetector based on the photothermoelectric effect in nanopatterned graphene.

Englund is an expert in quantum materials, plasmonics, and quantum optics who has made significant contributions to quantum bounded sensing, optical machine learning accelerators, cavity spectroscopy, and large-scale photonic devices. Englund was a young researcher with DARPA, AFOSR, and ACS, received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the IBM Faculty Award, and the Alexander Foundation Fellowship von Humboldt.

“Experiences working with nonlinear optics, quantum materials, quantum optics and plasmonics gave me and Dirk inspiration to develop new ideas for night vision technology,” says Leuenberger. “It is an honor to have these ideas selected by a prestigious program such as DARPA ENVision.”

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