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Assuming technology advanced to the point that ocular implants were feasible, could a human gain thermal vision or would their own body heat drown out other signals?

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  • $\begingroup$ Depends on what you call thermal vision, and what specific implants are possible. We can and do build devices which enable us to see in (some parts of) the infrared spectrum, and our body heat doesn't prevent them from operating. So, then, what part of the infrared spectrum are you interested in? What are the limitations of the "ocular implant" technology? Do you want the users to continue being able to see in the visible spectrum? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 9, 2021 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ Thermal vision devices are generally shielded from the user’s body heat, as I understand it. Naturally occurring thermal “vision” doesn’t exist in warm-blooded animals, as far as I know. $\endgroup$ Mar 9, 2021 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ Naturally occurring ocular implants do not exist in any kind of animal. We are not speaking of naturally occurring anything. We are speaking of photocameras implanted where the eyes used to be. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 9, 2021 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ But essentially an ocular implant that made infrared visible, yes. $\endgroup$ Mar 9, 2021 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP I never said naturally occurring ocular implants exist in nature. I said warm-blooded animals can’t detect heat signatures like, say, some snakes, because their body heat would obscure the signal. I’m wondering if that same principle would make ocular implants a no-go. $\endgroup$ Mar 9, 2021 at 21:16

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Compact consumer thermal imaging systems already exist, such as this one from FLIR. According to the FAQ it has a max operating temperature of 35 degrees C, so its not ideal for being permanently glued into a human, but that's not to say that it couldn't be improved in your cybernetic future.

Careful engineering of heat pumps and heat rejection systems might be required, but a quick search for micro- or meso-scale heat pumps shows that research on these things has been going on for a good 20+ years already, so by the time we have actual working cybernetic eyes I've no doubt they'd be workable. Use of the operator's own body as a heatsink for the hot-end of the heatpump seems plausible; human faces already have quite reasonable heat-rejection capabilities already after all. Use of the eye in thermal mode might involve some flushing or sweating, perhaps, or in the limit even repurposing existing lacrimal glands to cool the hotter parts of the devices.

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    $\begingroup$ Starfish's point is a good one: we already have the thermal technology now, and our own body heat doesn't get in the way of that. All that's left is miniaturization and some bio-engineering to hook it into the optic nerve. That's a bit beyond us right now - but not too much. In other words, the tech you're asking about could be a reality in your lifetime or, at worst, in your children's lifetime. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 10, 2021 at 0:28

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