THE MAGAZINE

Shedding Light on Nighttime Surveillance

By Laura Spadanuta

Short Wave Infrared

Another fairly new company—NoblePeak Vision of Wakefield, Massachusetts—has an entirely new night-vision technology developed by the company’s founders, Clifford King and Conor Rafferty. King and Rafferty began using the technology when they worked at Bell Laboratories, and they later realized it would be valuable for image sensors.

The technology involves altering the CMOS sensor, which many CCTV cameras use to process images. The technology allows the sensor to capture images using a light source only visible on the short wave infrared spectrum (known as SWIR). The light source is commonly called “night glow.” It comes from the hydroxide ions that are floating in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Night glow is “untapped in commercial markets,” according to Phil Davies, NoblePeak’s vice president of marketing. Davies says the energy is always there, but it’s at a wavelength that normal CCTV cameras and thermal imagers cannot see.

The system is passive, unlike the active LED illumination and Vumii’s active laser system. The picture that Noblepeak’s system yields is good enough to be used for identification purposes, says Davies. The light is coming from the atmosphere rather than being beamed out by any type of illuminator, so the range at which the system can capture a good picture may be limited only by the range of the camera the sensor is in.

Moreover, the atmospheric light source could be better than the sun’s light, Davies says, because there won’t be any shadows, due to the fact that atmospheric light is all around.

Another advantage Davies envisions is that cameras using the sensor could function as normal CCTV color cameras during the day and switch to detect nightglow and be monochrome at night.

The company has garnered international attention. It won the Global Security Challenge 2007 Grand Final as the most promising technology start-up. Various camera companies are scheduled to start using NoblePeak’s test cameras with the CMOS sensors this March. The company’s goal is to sell camera cores that include the sensors directly to camera manufacturers.

Jones called NoblePeak’s technology “The one system that I have seen that could potentially revolutionize the industry.”

Davies foresees homeland security being the first market for the technology. “Things like the Secure Border Initiative or protecting military bases where you don’t particularly want to light everything up and it isn’t feasible to run lights everywhere and you also want to be a little bit covert, our technology plays extremely well,” he says.

Initially the price per camera may run as high as $10,000. However, the price will go down to as low as $2,000 for some models after a few years, Davies predicts. 

“One [camera] system is the ideal as the costs to buy and own come down and you can have one system that works both for day and night. If the technology from NoblePeak works the way they say, it holds the most promise,” says Jones.

Criminals have always sought to take advantage of the dark. But developments in the fields of imaging and camera technology are shedding light on the problems of nighttime surveillance, making it easier to force criminals out of the shadows.


Laura Spadanuta is an assistant editor at Security Management.

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