I've been fortunate to try out a night-vision system for automotive use, the Vast by Lanmodo. New technology always intrigues me, particularly how useful it actually is and how well it gets along with a human operator.
The Vast resembles a large (8.2-inch) rear-view mirror that can be placed atop the instrument panel via an attached pad or attached to the windshield with a suction cup. It comes not just boxed, but presented very nicely.
The camera lens protrudes a bit from the rear and requires correct orientation to see around wipers and a good view of the road ahead. A rather long and slightly cumbersome power cord also allows connection to an optional rear camera. A thoughtful addition is an OBD-II (emissions testing connector) power cord adaptor.
Unfortunately neither of the two mounting methods worked out for me on either of my vehicles due to the down/forward-slope of the instrument panels and windshield angle (also I'm fussy about blocking the windshield view). I fashioned a little foam block to shim the non-adjustable base pad up a bit for a fairly stable mounting, below and centered with my outside view.
I was especially curious to see how well one might transition back and forth between out-front evening/night vision and a fairly bright screen rather close. In my boat, running on instruments, while looking ahead for logs or other vessels, it's fairly easy as the light levels don't differ a lot, and you're moving more slowly. I was quite amazed at how well this device gathers even the slightest amount of light and displays such a clear color view of what's ahead!
I live atop a mountain with very dark roadways and found looking forward then periodically checking the screen, perhaps for a possible rock, branch, or animal ahead became fairly easy as I acclimated to its use. I did dial down the brightness a few clicks and found the overall performance of the night vision to be quite good out to roughly the 300 meter claimed range. I did wish for a bit wider field of vision for sharp curves in the road. Due to the brief moment required to refocus one's eyes to the screen, it's probably best not to do much of this at higher vehicle speeds or on narrow roads.
I also tried the unit in city driving, perhaps to see a pedestrian in dark clothes stepping out from the curb in the darkness. This was a mixed result, at times excellent, but oncoming lights and bright reflectors can create a distracting washout. Perhaps an automatic brightness control could be added?
I'm super intrigued to try this in the boat this summer in Alaska, particularly in fog or low light (boats don't have headlights!). I fashioned a pistol grip for the Vast and loaned it to a neighbor along with a small battery to try out for an evening hunt. He reported it worked really well for glassing (scanning for animals) as dusk turned to darkness. I'm also wondering how well it could work for search and rescue folks, among others, as a handheld device.
The bottom line is this is amazing technology, with usefulness in certain circumstances. On a vehicle with great LED headlights, it's likely unnecessary. On my GMC truck with wimpy projector high beams, it's useful. More diverse mounting options are needed, and auto brightness would be nice. Here's a youtube showing what it can do: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bonHYthDMHU
ABOUT THE WRITER
Brad Bergholdt is an automotive technology instructor at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif. Readers may send him email at email@example.com; he cannot make personal replies.