Binocular Trends and Technology

By: Bill Macarthur

There have been some incredible developments in optical technology in recent years. One of the most interesting new products comes from a company called Torrey Pines Logic. It has been developed in partnership with the United States Navy, and it is currently being field tested for use in Iraq and beyond. It is called LightSpeed, and it just might revolutionize battlefield communications.

The new device, developed with funding from the Office of Naval Research, is a short-range communications tool that will allow soldiers to talk on a secure channel up to two miles away, simply by looking at one another. It uses infrared to transmit audio and video data, and connects to a standard pair of binoculars. It employs the use of optical lenses to amplify the audio and video signals.

Soldiers in the field can connect headphones and a microphone to the binoculars to speak to one another, so long as they are both using the same device. The great thing about LightSpeed is that it is considerably more secure than traditional lasers or radio. Furthermore, it is extremely low power. This is important because it is less susceptible to being picked up and monitored by the other side. While it is intended for short range, line-of-sight communications, it has proven to be highly versatile in the field.

One application that has showed incredible promise is during vessel boarding search and seizure. The device can be used to transmit biometric data of passengers back to the ship. It is also ideal as a secondary communications device during radio blackouts. LightSpeed is also being tested for use in communications between submarines and aircraft, explosive ordinance disposal, and unmanned aerial vehicle landings.

Although the technology behind the LightSpeed device has been around for some time, it was not until 2003 that it first came to the attention of the US Navy. It was discovered at a tradeshow by a Navy Commander, and submitted to the Office of Naval Research's Tech Solutions department. ONR's Tech Solutions is a program that allows Sailors and Marines to suggest potential solutions to technology challenges. LightSpeed received research and development funding from the ONR in 2004, and current field testing shows incredible promise.

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