Thermal Night Vision Camera Install

butterman

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This section is a work in progress and I will update as new developments and work occurs. I'll put the interesting stuff first like videos and pictures and then an in-depth explanation of the project.

Current Status 5/24/19
I have disassembled the camera to verify condition of the electronics and the chopper wheel. I then built a wiring pigtail for the camera to confirm functionality. Below is a video of my preliminary test.

Next Step
Next step is material testing to find a suitably cheap ad transparent protector for the germanium lens. After that, I'll work on the head unit side and build a pig tail for that. After that, mount the camera and patch the pig tails together.

Tear Down pics

copper wheel with slight tear in plastic at the edge
View attachment jpeg_1182DSC_0634.JPG

chopper wheel with Fibonacci sequence
View attachment jpeg_1186DSC_0638.JPG

looks like somebody pinched the seal when they assembled it
View attachment jpeg_1188DSC_0640.JPG

this version of the camera uses the same motor from a CD drive and is supposedly better than earlier gen 2 motor
View attachment jpeg_1190DSC_0642.JPG

tantalum caps look great. Zero corrosion found in the housing.
View attachment jpeg_1191DSC_0643.JPG
View attachment jpeg_1193DSC_0645.JPG


The Goal
The goal of this project is to install a Cadillac Night Vision Camera from the Cadillac Deville. The stock head unit has a configuration for a back up camera so the goal is to hot wire a reverse gear signal to the head unit and feed the camera output to the back up camera input. In effect this will display the thermal night vision camera on my stock head unit with the flip of a switch.

A bit about the Cadillac Camera and why I chose it
The Cadillac camera is weather tight and pretty robust so it is great for a vehicle mounted camera. It is a real-deal passive thermal camera unlike Mercedes night vision so it picks up IR generated by hot objects this means that range is not limited by illumination from IR lights. Thermal cameras are still considered high tech and most are ITAR controlled so they would require considerable hacking to be usable. This camera is not and so it uses a simple NTSC composite video out, compatible with most TVs and head units. Another benefit of this camera is that it has a 60hz refresh rate, which is pretty rare among thermal cameras, and makes this perfect for a moving application.

Raytheon designed this camera in two generations. They are both great cameras for the application considering what else is out there but gen 1 is not nearly as robust as the 2nd gen. If the outer lens breaks it is no longer weather tight while the 2nd design is still weather tight if the outer lens breaks. Considering where these cameras were located on the vehicle it's not hard to imagine the outer lens breaking often, which it most certainly does. This outer lens is made from germanium and no known source reproduces these. I know what you're thinking, no you can't just use glass as it's not transparent to IR. This outer lens is not used for imaging but simply to protect the inner lens which actually does the focusing.

119772.png
119773.png

1st Gen (note the ovular frame around the lens) 2nd gen (note the recessed lens)

Common Issues
It is hard to tell if a camera will work or not just by looking at it, thankfully most cameras can be fixed if you are resourceful enough. Thankfully BST sensors don't really go bad unless water ingress occurs. While you could theoretically solder in a good BST sensor, every sensor comes from the factory with bad pixels but they are mapped out after final assembly and calibration so even if you did swap the sensor, you would end up with a bunch of dead pixels scattered across your screen.

common failure points are...
  • tantalum capacitors aging and corroding (replaceable off the shelf parts)
  • the plastic chopper which refreshes the pixels on the BST sensor unfortunately ages (replaceable with repops or 3d printed alternative)
  • the motor for the chopper wheel (replaceable off the shelf part)
  • corrosion of the BST sensor (good luck finding one of these)
 

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protias

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The biggest thing you are going to have to worry about (other than a front end accident) is the lens getting pitted by road debris.
 

SquirrelMaster

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The biggest thing you are going to have to worry about (other than a front end accident) is the lens getting pitted by road debris.
Time to slap a piece of black perspex over it and see how it does.

@butterman i have some of that perspex that you can use to hide alp heads behind. If you want I can send you a piece to test and see how much of an effect it has on the camera.
I'm sure we can also look up the data sheet for its light wavelength translucency as well....
 

butterman

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Beautiful.
I wonder if we can pipe the video feed into a SBC and run opencv to detect vehicles/pedestrians.....
funny you mention that, I was thinking about doing something similar with a raspberry pi and maybe some python magic. It would be a steep learning curve for me to get that heavy into python but being familiar with matlab and the image analysis portion of it, I don't think it would be too bad once I figure out the python syntax.

The biggest thing you are going to have to worry about (other than a front end accident) is the lens getting pitted by road debris.
You read my mind! I'm going run some material tests to determine a cheap lens protector-protector material.
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Time to slap a piece of black perspex over it and see how it does.

@butterman i have some of that perspex that you can use to hide alp heads behind. If you want I can send you a piece to test and see how much of an effect it has on the camera.
I'm sure we can also look up the data sheet for its light wavelength translucency as well....
That would be great. Is perspex just a name brand acrylic or something else? I've seen it mentioned before for stealth installs....

seems like this camera operates in the 3-14 micron wavelength region so it will probably work well. The contrast might not be as bright for very hot objects and we'll loose some overall signal strength but it'll probably work good enough.

119962
 
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bslaws

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Please keep us updated on your progress. I am considering another IR camera as I am beginning to drive in deer, bison, elk and moose territory.
 

Deacon

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This is awesome. And I’m considering a replacement head unit in my truck that has extra camera inputs. A HUD would be ideal but we face a whole lot of deer around here...
 

sdrawkcaB

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After considering the FLIR PathfindIR 2 system and the HUDWAY Drive, I decided to go with a preorder for the HUDWAY Drive. While my car currently has a HUD, I will supplement it with the HUDWAY Drive + Thermal IR camera. My thought is that I didn’t want an addon screen that took my eyes away from the road. With the HUDWAY Drive, I’ll just have to refocus my eyes, but the road and HUD will always be in my vision and or peripheral vision. If I had to look at a screen located elsewhere, knowing myself, I’d risk focusing on it too long and it would make driving more dangerous for me.
 

butterman

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@azslogan I'm not familiar, looks like a typical active IR camera setup

Quick update

I ended up getting an offer for my camera that I couldn't refuse but I recently got my hands on another one which I won't feel bad about strapping to the front of my car so I expect to resume this project in the next couple weeks.
 

DrHow

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Anyone familiar with this...

Looks interesting. It is light amplifying, not true thermal imaging. The OP camera is a thermal imaging. Depends on what is the prime use. If somone wants to drive down the road with no illumination (anti LEO tactic as example), thermal is only potential option. If one wants to use this to enhance the lighting being used, looks like at first blush it works. What the thermal will also do is spot animals in the weeds and other biological items that can block being seen by naked eye or enhanced illumination like this device.

thanks for link. Cool idea. worth a try to see how it does for improving general lighting conditions sr night. One thing that makes me wonder. A person night vision is already affected by dash lights, oncoming traffic, strong street lights and what not. This device might further degrade actual nigh view from eyes when shifting from this back to the road. It takes too much time for the eyes to adjust back to true darkness. Especially for anyone +30 age. The Caddy thermal image was heads up, and in my experience limited the degrading raw night vision of the eyes.

As a pilot, the actual red lighting of older panel (dash) of aircraft mitigated nite vision degrading when flying. Helped a bunch. Today, with all the flat panel displays, I find it hurts my depth perception, and overall eye night vision. Especially in VFR, landing by hand at night. Something to consider regarding this device.
 

G39x

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I bet you could be almost totally invisible with thermal cameras and vantablack the entire car. The cop would hear something in the dark and be like what just whizzed passed me, especially in NV highways.
 

sdrawkcaB

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I bet you could be almost totally invisible with thermal cameras and vantablack the entire car. The cop would hear something in the dark and be like what just whizzed passed me, especially in NV highways.
To Infrared light amplifying Cameras, vantablack could likely work.

With FLIR, it would not work. The car would still put off heat picked up by the FLIR / Thermal Camera.
 

Shadyduk1979

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I have also started installing these gen 2 units In my cars. One worked great and was incredibly clear, but became really muted recently and barely registers now. Any idea what could be wrong? 20191116_141018.jpg20191116_141445.jpg
 

V1Jake

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So that camera works just buy tapping it into a screen, powering it and a switch to turn it on?

I wonder if I can get it to show on my 6.5 nbt display on my bmw f30 if not the hudway
 

V1Jake

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Shadyduk1979

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Oh boy...... Time to buy one 😬
The hardest part will be figuring out how to tie it into your displays. But many cars have a provision for a aftermarket camera, so it might not even be that hard.
 

V1Jake

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The hardest part will be figuring out how to tie it into your displays. But many cars have a provision for a aftermarket camera, so it might not even be that hard.
Should be doable. My BMW has some aftermarket media interface which is connected to an aftermarket camera. When I push my idrive to the right the front cam comes on. I'm sure it can be tapped to that somehow. I can take some pics tomorrow. Thanks
 

Deacon

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If somone wants to drive down the road with no illumination (anti LEO tactic as example)
I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke any person to conceive of this as a worthy pursuit.
 

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