When we think of night vision, our minds automatically turn to grainy black and green images.

Today, things have begun to change, and color night vision is slowly creeping into the mainstream. The Drive reported on two technologies in early January that absolutely revolutionize how humans can see in the dark. The first true color night vision camera comes from a company called SPI Corporation. Its Osprey X27 full-motion video camera is capable of producing color images in very low-light situations. The videos embedded show images from the Osprey X27—and they were all shot at midnight.

It's almost hard to believe these videos weren't taken at dusk, but technology called complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) imaging sensors makes it real. The technology turns photons into electrons, which an algorithm decodes. Humans see the final image the way our brains like: in color with a fair amount of light. SPI says its low-light technology can turn existing light 85,000 times brighter.

Traditional night vision technology uses an image intensification tube to capture any photons of light and then energizes the particles. The process repeats itself multiple times, and we're treated to a final image that appears brighter to the human eye. Even today, the technology is normally relegated to monochrome hues, normally green, because the traditional system isn't capable of capturing enough light to produce the quality images our brains can easily decipher.

Traditional vs color night vision technology

Traditional vs color night vision technology

As sort of a middle of the road improvement between standard night vision and SPI's full-color night vision, there's ColorTAC's CVA-14 system. The unit clips onto current night vision elements in use by the U.S. military and works much like traditional night vision technology. Ambient light passes through the intensification tube and its technology produces an image that humans register as closer to true color. This unit is designed to work with a type of monocular night vision system in use by the military.

Yet, both modern systems still require some source of light to operate and can't operate in complete darkness. In the future, they could incorporate thermal imaging to detect different details and provide an even clearer picture with less light. There's no denying the color systems on display here are already major improvements over a technology rooted in the 1960s.

The Drive's story mentions nothing about automotive use for any of these color night vision technologies, but they could certainly improve upon the current automotive night vision systems, and that could save lives. As new technologies, however, the prices are undoubtedly high, so it will likely be years before we see them in cars.