Aviation Specialties Unlimited Inc., an aviation innovation company, has taken the leap from reselling and maintaining legacy goggles that have been on the market since the 90s, to inventing and producing a product that could change the landscape of night vision use.
The new E3 goggles — filed for provisional patent by the Boise-based operation — is shifting gears in the industry, challenging giant corporations with goggles that are lighter in weight at the same price as technology that hasn’t been updated in decades.
“At the end of the day, this is life-saving technology,” said Jim Winkel, president of the company. “It’s used every night around the world, ultimately to save somebody’s life or make somebody’s life better.”
Uses for night vision technology have expanded beyond military tactics to law enforcement, search and rescue crews, firefights, oil rig operators, agriculture and air ambulances — including the Treasure Valley’s life flight teams.
Moat recently, night vision is being used to spray crops with pesticides at night, to avoid harming bee colonies, Winkel said.
Before they decided to tackle a new goggle of their own, Aviation Specialties manufactured night vision compatible switch boards and lights and installed them in aircrafts.
CEO Mike Atwood worked with the Federal Aviation Administration when they wrote the regulations for operators using night vision.
Now, the team services about 3,000 goggles a year, prompting them to ask, why hasn’t the technology been updated to better serve the people who rely on them?
Winkel, a retired Army pilot, knows first hand the stress put on an individual’s head and neck by the heavy goggles and headset.
“I can tell you there were missions that I flew where all I could think about was this burning sensation on my head because it hurt so much,” he said. “The technology was good but it was heavy, and the flight helmet technology was good but it was heavy.”
Reducing the weight was Joe Estrera’s main task. The vice president and chief technology officer of Aviation Specialties knows “every gram counts.”
“Because a lot of these pilots are using these for hundreds of thousands of hours, it has a cumulative effect on them,” he said. “It’s really about safety and longevity; we want these folks to have a safe operation and be able to operate a long time.”
The new goggles shed over 100 grams in weight, going from 521 grams to 404 grams. The change was a matter of switching from plastic to metal — seemingly counterintuitive — but this made the goggles more durable with fewer parts.
“We knew we had to meet the requirements of the old system but take significant weight off, and that’s exactly what we did,” Estrera said.
The newly designed goggles costs the same as a pair already on the market — about $12,000 — with additional reduction in costs coming from less need for maintenance.
Users have the option of a model made with green phosphorous — the green vision seen in movies — or new white phosphorous lenses that intensify light at greater levels with less strain on the eyes.
Now that they’re manufacturing their own goggles, they are one competitor in a narrow field — there are only two other night vision manufacturers in the country.
Estrera said developments of the technology haven’t come from the larger corporations because it’s harder for bigger companies to change.
The new goggles will be the most high-tech in the U.S. market, he said.
Funding by the U.S. military has gone toward buying, not re-engineering, Winkel said.
“The dollars haven’t been made available to these large defense contractors to redesign and retool. We’re a small business; we took our money and said, ‘We are going to do something about this,’” he said. “We aren’t going to wait for the federal government to give us money that we can go develop with, we’re going to develop our own because we know what we want, we know that we can do it with precision, we know that we can do it quickly and not go through all this bureaucracy.”
The company has filed for patents, which will be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration for certification, then sold. The company is taking advanced orders and expects to flood the market several hundred units this fall.
The increase in operations means an increase in staff and facility space for the business — all of which is going to stay in Boise, they said.
“It’s an invented item out of Boise, Idaho,” Estrera said,” and it is intended to be produced in Boise, Idaho.”
Riley Bunch covers federal politics as well as education and social issues for the Idaho Press. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @rbunchIPT on Twitter.
This article and photo has been republished on this website with permission by the author Riley Bunch.