Very expensive cars come with very cool features, like head-up displays, automated parking and even night-vision systems. To a greater or lesser extent you can give your 10 year old beater similar features through aftermarket upgrades, but it is not always advisable.
Such is the case with the Flir PathFindIR II thermal night vision system. Of course you want to give your car night vision, putting it on par with the Batmobile or KITT, but installation, cost and even legislation is likely to prove prohibitive.
To test the PathFindIR II, I installed it on CNET's trusty test car, the Chevy Aveo. At $2,500 (£1,664, AU$3,198) for the basic system, including camera, CPU and cabling, the PathFindIR II was worth more than the actual car. Flir also provided me with the $750 installation kit (£494, AU$965), which includes a monitor, further enhancing the value of the little Aveo.
Flir recommends installing the camera behind the grille, at about 2 feet from the ground. The Aveo's grille is a plastic insert in a narrow aperture, offering very little flexibility for camera positioning. The camera itself is a blocky 2.5 inches thick (6.4cm) and 2.5 inches per side (6.4cm), almost a cube, with a video cable port off the bottom.
For a clean install, I might have drilled holes in the grille surround for the camera's mounting bracket, and cut a hole in the plastic grille for the lens to see through. As this would be a temporary install for testing, I merely removed the entire grille insert and attached the mount to a single hole.
As the camera lens cannot turn independent of the body, the whole camera piece needs to be mounted with the cable port running downwards. The mounting arm included in the installation kit provided that flexibility, but this limitation could prove problematic on some installs.
The CPU part of the PathFindIR II comes encased in metal, a flat rectangular piece with ports for video cables measuring almost 6 by 4 inches (about 15x10cm). The PathFindIR II manual says the CPU should be mounted in the car's cabin to prevent weather damage, and its size makes it possible to hide it away under the dashboard. There are no controls on the CPU, so once mounted, you won't need to access it. For my temporary install I merely left it cabled up in the passenger footwell.
For the final piece of the puzzle, I could have mounted the LCD monitor included in the installation kit on top of the dashboard, but instead chose to use the Pioneer AVIC 8000NEX navigation head unit already in the dashboard. That head unit included a video input, suitable for the PathFindIR II's video cable, and I could splice the PathFindIR II's power cables into the existing wiring harness.
Flir's manual recommends having an installer do all this dirty work, reasonable as it involves running cable from the front of the car into the cabin, and mounting the camera and CPU cleanly and securely. That said, I was impressed how simple the PathFindIR II proved to put in place. Despite the temporary mountings I performed, getting the PathFindIR II working was simply a matter of plugging cables in from camera to CPU, and CPU to monitor.
Driving the now night vision-equipped Aveo, the image on the monitor showed grainy black and white, an infrared image of the world in front of the car. With a 24-degree field of view, the image caught traffic and pedestrians immediately in front and in each lane to the right and left.
Other cars were easy to see on the monitor, and brake lights did not blow out the image, but those cars were also easy to see through the windshield on city-lit streets. Buildings and city infrastructure appeared in good detail on the monitor, although I could not make out the state of traffic lights.