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Thursday, May 27, 1999 Published at 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK


Army's hot new recruit

Vladimir produces a sharp image of this water heater

DERA has persevered with the technology
By BBC Science Correspondent David Gregory

The British Army is getting a new type of thermal camera that will enhance its fighting capability at night and in bad weather.

[ image: The older technology produces softer images]
The older technology produces softer images
The camera, which detects heat rather than visible light, has been developed at the UK's Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA).

The agency is the research and development arm of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and has a turnover of a billion pounds a year.

The new thermal camera marks a significant step forward on the current imaging technologies used by the army. These systems are expensive and need to be continuously cooled.

[ image: The army will get a camera based on the prototype Vladimir]
The army will get a camera based on the prototype Vladimir
This makes them bulky and also dangerous: The cylinders of pure air used to cool existing battlefield kit have the same explosive potential as a grenade.

Non-cooled thermal cameras are in use, primarily by firefighters, but their pictures are of a much lower resolution.

But now scientists at DERA have developed a non-cooled camera, called Vladimir, with very high resolution. It is based on the same technology used in infrared detectors in burglar alarms.

[ image: The air canisters used to cool the old cameras can be dangerous]
The air canisters used to cool the old cameras can be dangerous
Vladimir is robust enough to be used on the sights of assault rifles and machine guns. But a cheap, high resolution camera that does not need cooling will also be seized on by firefighters.

DERA scientists are also working with doctors to use Vladimir to diagnose patients with circulation disorders.

Ironically, the technology has only reached this stage because a few maverick scientists at DERA insisted on working on the project even though the MoD dropped it in favour of developing radar in the 1960s.

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