IR Goggles

by Vlad Dolezal on March 23, 2009


Just… wow!

I just got back home after taking the first walk outside with my new IR goggles. I feel like… I’ve just been time travelling and visited some crazy post-apocalyptic future!

The almost black sky, the whole world in shades of red, the frosty pink grass that looks like it’s dead, fried dry by weeks of intense sunshine… yet when you touch it, you realize it’s healthy wet green grass.

Wait, let me backtrack a little bit.

IR stands for infra-red. So IR goggles are for infra-red viewing, with the bare human eye!

The idea comes from Bill Beaty. You can read his ideas about IR goggles for all the details of how he first thought of them, how he then built them, and how you can build your own for about $10! (The parts for mine cost me about 20 pounds, including shipping.). It’s a great read, so definitely check it out, either right now, or after you finish reading this blog post.

Basically, you buy cheap welding goggles with unscrewable lenses, and replace the dark lenses with several layers of congo blue and primary red color filters. And voila, you have IR goggles!

The color filters together filter out all the visible light. But they let through all the IR (infra-red) light! Now, we humans normally don’t notice IR light, because it’s drowned out by all the visible light. But if you remove all the visible light, your eyes can see the infra-red light, provided it’s bright enough! (Which is why the IR goggles need bright sunlight.)

So I built my goggles, and since it’s a bright sunny day, I went out to try them!

Going down the stairs in my house was quite fun, because I could see NOTHING. No, wait, actually, I could faintly see the railing, which is painted white. But that was it. Fun :D

Then, when I opened the outside door, my first thought was “Wow, I’ve just entered some crazy post-apocalyptic world!”

The sky near the sun was a bright red, while on the opposite it was deep dark blue-black. I went to the park, which is just two minutes’ walk away from my house. Crossing the road was fun, because in IR, the traffic lights have three colors… red, red and red. Of course, I could tell which red it was by the position of the light that was shining, but still :)

In the park, I walked around, looking at how everything changes in IR light. The pavements were very dark, while the grass was extremely bright. In fact, I first thought it was dried grass, with occasional patches of dark fresh grass in between.

Then, when I kneeled down and touched the grass, I realized the frosty pink that I thought was dried grass was in fact healthy live grass. And the dark patches were simply mud without grass. Also, as I was kneeling, I noticed my T-shirt sticking out under my hoodie. For a few moments, I was confused, because I couldn’t remember having a crimson red T-shirt. Then I remembered – I put on a BLACK T-shirt that morning! Bill Beaty wrote about how some T-shirts look very different under IR light, but I didn’t realize how strongly surreal the effect feels until you see it with your own eyes.

I also noticed people turning around looking at me like I was some madman. I probably LOOKED like one, with my welding goggles on, and a hood over my head and scarf over my face to block out the light trying to seep in around the edges of my goggles, walking around very slowly and turning around in wonder to look at all the amazing sights of the post-apocalyptic IR world.

Mr. Amundsen, I believe we have spotted signs of life!

Mr. Amundsen, I believe we have spotted signs of life!

Well, that’s all I have to say for now! I’m going to try removing the primary red filters from my goggles, to see what the infra-red world looks like if you add some shades of deep blue. Make sure you read Bill Beaty’s full article about the IR goggles. Who knows, you might also get tempted to build your own :)

And one last note. For those of you who know me personally – I have plenty of the color filters left. So if you want to build your own IR goggles, just get some cheap welding goggles off e-bay, give me a shout and I can help you build your own pair!


Addendum: Holy damn!

I just got back after going outside with only congo blue filters in my goggles. That means my goggles let through infra-red light, and also some deep blue light. You wouldn’t believe how INTENSE the colors are!

Adding the shades of deep blue creates such an amazing contrast!

The grass is a deep vibrant red! Think a communist flag. That kind of red. Now imagine every blade of grass, every leaf on bushes, every bit of green growth is that kind of deep red. And most of the rest of the world is a mild light blue. Except for the bits that are the intense vibrant red! Oh and trees… trees are just plain insane! The bark of trees combines the light blue with the deep red in such an amazing way… I really wish I could take a picture to show you!