Ultimate Night Vision Headlamp - 500+ lumens with only 8 watts

Picture of Ultimate Night Vision Headlamp - 500+ lumens with only 8 watts
Headlamp flashlight technology takes a quantum leap! You can have it all: * Intense brightness * Lightweight * Long life * Low cost * Rechargeable * Unbreakable * Small * Waterproof * Unique shocking turquoise color

Race proven! I put the light to the ultimate test by competing in the Gold Rush 24-hour Adventure endurance race in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Many of the other competitors had $500 HID lamps from NiteRider, Light & Motion, etc, yet throughout the race nearly everyone that saw my light commented as to its extreme brightness or asked where they could get one. It was that much brighter than anything else.

brightness: 500+ lumens / 7 million+ mcd @ 15 degree
weight: 120 gram headlamp + 60 gram electronics + 280 gram battery pack = 460 gram total
cost: $60 including batteries
lifetime: 3, 6, 12, 24 hours (4 brightness settings)
size: headlamp portion 5cm x 5cm x 2.5cm
rechargeable: Ni-MH or Lithium-Ion batteries (your choice)
unbreakable: LED technology

- Cyan (or Green) high power/high efficiency LED's
- high-transmittance TIR lenses
- high-efficiency DC/DC step-down converter

None of this was possible just a couple years ago, but now it can be done easily with inexpensive components you assemble yourself!

i've got several other power-LED instructables too, check those out for other notes & ideas.

This article is brought to you by MonkeyLectric and the Monkey Light bike ilght.

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Step 1: What's so special here?

Your eye! Remember back to biology class - your eye has "rods" and "cones". these are the sensing cells in your eye that detect images. the cones are your daylight & color vision, but they are less sensitive than the rods. Now the part you didn't learn in school:

(1) The rods are about 2.5 times more sensitive to light than the cones. That's why they are your night vision.

(2) The rods and the cones are not equally sensitive to all colors (wavelengths) of light. The wavelength of maximum sensitivity for your rods is 507nm, or blue-green. Why? Moonlight is more bluish than sunlight. The color of maximum sensitivity for your cones is 555nm green, about the color of plants. (more info)

To get the best possible vision at night, we'd like to build a lamp that puts out the most light at the 507nm that our rods are most sensitive to. This gets us the best vision at night for the least power used. If we had a white light instead, it would take much more power to get as much visibility.

Thanks to our friend the LED, this weird pure turquose light is possible! The latest LED technology is much more efficient than a standard light bulb to begin with, but using the special turquose color gives us even much better night vision than white, and is more efficient than even the fanciest HID lights.

Step 2: Ok, but really what is so special here?

well, basically there are a couple of things we do to get better efficiency and output than anything else you can buy/borrow/steal:

1) use cyan or green LED's. these will give 2.5x their rated lumen output using your night vision, because they are rated based on your day vision. (see http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/vision/bright.html )

2) use the latest high-power LED's. new LED's such as the Luxeon's are rated about 50 lumens/watt for cyan and green (this is the day-vision rating). this is equal to the high-end HID lamps and at least twice as efficient as a halogen lamp. The Luxeon LED's used to be pricey, but now they are about $3 each.

3) use the latest optics custom-designed for the Luxeon LED's. several companies are now making low-cost lenses for LED's based on the TIR (total internal reflection) principal. These lenses do not have a reflective mirror, and achieve 85%-90% transmission. non-LED lamps lose much more of the light because some of the light shines backwards where it can't be used, and because mirror reflectors are less efficient. typical transmission for reflector-based systems is only 65%.

4) don't over-power the LED's. looking at the LED datasheet, we notice that the LED efficiency goes down somewhat with higher power: 45 lumens at 1W power, but only 80 lumens at 3W power. so we get the best efficiencies with less power. this indicates the importance of having a brightness-switch on the unit. in practice i have found the 1/2 power setting to be nearly as bright as the full power setting.

Step 3: What you need

Picture of What you need
4 x Luxeon Star 1W Cyan (LXHL-ME1D or LXHL-ME1C) OR Green (LXHL-MM1C or LXHL-MM1D) - $3 each. (the circuit will work just fine with any color LED you want)

old CPU heatsink (around 5cm x 5cm x 1.5cm)
LED Dynamics Buckpuck (3021-D-I-1000 or 3021-D-E-1000) - $20
4 x L2Optics/Dialight OP-015 lens - $1 each
4 x L2Optics/Dialight OH-ES1-CL lens holder - $0.30 each
8-10 x AA NiMH rechargeables, or 3 x Lithium-ION rechargeables - $20 total for NiMH
2 small toggle switches (digikey 519PB) - $1.50 each
1 large toggle switch (digikey 514PB) - $2
flexible stranded wire (18ga to 22ga)
sheath for wire (eg: sheath of a 3/16" double-braid rope)
silicone or epoxy
thermal compound (also known as thermal grease or heatsink compound) - $5
plastic or fiberglass for heatsink mount
old headlamp headband

Where to get it:

old CPU heatsink - you will find these in any broken computer from 1995 onwards. in newer pc's the heatsink will be too large, but you can cut it with a hacksaw.

the LED's, lenses, and buckpuck all come from future electronics also see here - the 2nd link is a direct search for the LED's and buckpucks. for the lenses, here is the direct search to find them.

You can get the above LEDs, buckpuck & maybe lenses at farnell.com or rswww.com

- i recommend Luxeon 1W Stars, either Cyan or Green with either Lambertian or Batwing type. My testing shows that the 1W stars can be driven at 2W no problem with the heatsink, and they are much easier to work with than 3W stars because their backplate is insulated.

- Several different lenses are available for the lens mounts, so you can easily tailor the light to your needs. you can even change the lenses on the road in a minute or so. there are 5 degree, 15 degree, 25 degree and 5x25 degree lenses available, all are $1 each.

batteries are from http://www.batteriesamerica.com

switches from http://www.digikey.com (probably can find similar items from future electronics)

small quantity thermal compound. both computer and electronics stores have this. "Arctic Silver" is one of the common ones for computer use. Thermal adhesive is even better if you can find it (and it is pricey).
http://www.mouser.com (search for "thermal compound")
http://www.newegg.com (search for "thermal compound")
Digikey also has it, but only in $25 packs. CompUSA also will likely have it.

wire: 22ga is ideal here. you want something flexible that won't break after a few flexes. this can be surprisingly hard to find! radio-control hobby stores usually have something like this. at Home Depot you can get an 18/2 or 18/3 rubberized cable ("SJOOW") and split it open to get out the individual wires.

sheath: you want something to go over the wires and protect them. a good choice is a 3/16" or 1/4" double-braid rope (that means it has a core and a sheath). you pull out the core and have a sheath left. you can probably find this at Home Depot, if not try your local Marine store for yacht rope.

more information: the technical datasheets for each component:
Phillips Luxeon Star Led's: http://www.luxeon.com/pdfs/DS23.pdf
Led Dynamics Buckpuck: http://www.leddynamics.com/LuxDrive/datasheets/3021-BuckPuck.pdf
L2Optics/Dialight Lenses: http://www.l2optics.com/luxeon.aspx

Step 4: Solder the LED's together

Picture of solder the LED's together
fit to heatsink. the led's are in a series-parallel configuration (2 led's in series, 2 pairs of that in parallel)

note that if you want to make a white headlamp, or any other color, the project will work exactly the same.

Step 5: Heatsink goop

Picture of heatsink goop
clean the heatsink first so that glue will stick to it later.

apply heatsink goo (heatsink compound aka thermal compound aka thermal grease) to bottom of LED's. you can also use thermal glue instead (and it is probably better if you do), but it is hard to find and a bit pricey.

stick LED's on the heatsink and wiggle slightly (but keeping the goop from getting all over since you need to have the glue stick later)

Step 6: Glue the LED's

Picture of glue the LED's
the glue is all we are using to hold down the LED's. it seems tough and durable to me, but if you are worried the alternative is for you to drill 2 holes in the heatsink for each of the LED's (matching the cutouts in the star), and bolt them down with 4-40 size nylon machine screws. (or 3mm size). you can get nylon machine screws from www.mcmaster.com

1) do not get any glue on the LED lens. some glues (like silicone) you can get off the lens after it dries.

2) make sure the glue can handle 80-100 degrees celcius. (don't use hot-melt glue!). make sure it is waterproof (don't use superglue / cyanoacrylate)

3) i used silicone, but if i do it again i will try epoxy instead. the silicone does not flow by itself, so it is hard to get it to fully cover the LED (in order to have a submersible lamp). with epoxy you can dispense it with a syringe and accurately get it everywhere but the lens. smearing the silicone around is messy.

4) after pouring the glue, press the lens holders into place on top of the led's

Step 7: Attach buttons to buckpuck

Picture of attach buttons to buckpuck
hot-glue or silicone

the big switch is the master on-off

the small switches will control the brightness. you only need TWO small switches, three turned out to be overkill.

Step 8: Solder brightness resistors

Picture of solder brightness resistors
refer to the schematic below. we'll build it using "point to point" wiring.

R1 = 680 ohm (blue gray brown)
R2 = 1200 ohm (brown red red)

these values worked for my buckpuck despite a somewhat misleading note in the datasheet, so test your resistor values before soldering.

these values give you FOUR overall power settings:
  • both switches off: full power
  • one switch on: 1/2 power
  • other switch on: 1/4 power
  • both switches on: 1/8 power

soldering note: these particular switches are made from fairly melty plastic so make sure you solder them rapidly. if you heat them for a long time they will melt inside and not switch properly. the best way to solder them without overheating is in 3 steps:

1) heat resistor lead and melt a small blob of solder to it ("tinning" it)
2) heat the switch lead and melt a small blob of solder to it also
3) now hold the resistor lead against the switch lead and melt the two solder blobs together, without needing to add any new solder.

this is good soldering practice in general anytime you are soldering something that is heat sensitive (such as the battery holders)

Step 9: Attach headlamp

Picture of Attach headlamp
you will need an old headlamp mount (or you could make yourself one from a bungee-strap and plastic). you will have to figure the best way to attach your LED/heatsink to your headlamp since it depends on the details. for my headlamp, i cut two simple pieces of plastic (shown below)

Step 10: Strain relief the wiring

Picture of strain relief the wiring
one of the keys to durable electronics is STRAIN RELIEF. any wire that gets bent or pulled will rapidly break if it does not have a good strain relief. there is a certain art to making a good strain relief!

first, i covered my entire wiring with a sheath from a 3/16" rope. if you've used very durable wire to begin with this may be overkill.

next, i made a strain relief where the wiring attaches to the headlamp, so that it won't get tangled or ripped when the lamp angle is changed, or the battery is dropped.

make an overhand knot in the wire, then glue it to the base plate. the knot gives much better grip to the sheath and the glue.

Step 11: Make the battery pack

Picture of make the battery pack
the "Buckpuck" lets you use pretty much any battery pack. The buckpuck is just an efficient (90-95%) DC-to-DC step-down converter, so it will always output the correct voltage and current to the LED's no matter what the input voltage is. The LED's may need up to about 7V to run them, and you need to add 2V overhead for the Buckpuck - so any battery pack above 9V will work. 8 x NiMH cells will be 9.6V, 3 x lithium-ion cells will be 11.1V, and 10 x NiMH cells will be 12.0V. those are all good choices.

I used 8 x NiMH cells, AA size. These are 2700mAh cells, which yielded about 3 hours runtime at maximum power, and 24 hours runtime at minimum (1/8) power.

Step 12: Finish wiring

Picture of finish wiring
connect the lamp and battery to the electronics

Step 13: Add lenses and test!

Picture of add lenses and test!
the lenses just press-fit into the lens holders

several different lenses are available for these mounts, so you can choose the lens angle you want.

don't stare directly into the light! it will blind you!
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futureboy2 years ago
WHERE ARE THE BEAMSHOTS!!!!!!??????!!!!111one
djzadjza3 years ago
hey, awesome light. i found a buckpuck on luxeon's website. this was the description;
The 3023-D-E-1000 BuckPuck 1000mA dimmable driver is a 5-32VDC, high efficiency, true current regulating driver specifically designed to power one or more high power LEDs or LED arrays.

Ideally suited for powering all configurations of Luxeon Rebel LEDs, the 3023-D-E-1000 driver exhibit high efficiency and require no external current limiting resistors or additional heat sinking. A fast response current-sensing circuit makes it ideal for applications where flashing or strobe operation of the LED is required."
do you think this buckpuck would still need the two adjustment switches? could i just use the dimmer knob? do you think 2 9v batteries would be a suitable batterypack? here is the link to the description

as always,
thanks and great 'ible
Have you tried this Config yet? I built the original but would like to build more with my cycling club and this would be key!!!
No I haven't tried the config. I haven't had the spare time
In many of the comments here, there is a reference to a "buckpuck"

Please would someone tell me what a buckpuck is ?
A buckpuck is a LED driver, a component which delivers constant current needed by LEDs (especially high power LEDs).
ShaunHill3 years ago
End result for light intensity appears to be fantastic. Is there a way to make this more attractive and weather/batter proof? It all looks a bit fragile because everything is exposed.
From my experience with night orienteering, I found that a red light is worthless because green plants absorb the red light. Thus, they appear black like the rest of the night. A green light should reflect well from the leaves, making them easy to see. However, the green light may not reflect well from other color surfaces. White light has all the colors and will reflect off of any colored surface. I would like to see this headlamp made with white LEDs.
bsangpulnak3 years ago
Mr.Dan, If I want to put an ac power supply to your project by using a ADC converter, what should I do so that I still get that monstrous lighting capability?
camaxwelljr4 years ago
tto F'n cool!
Joell4 years ago
Hey good job with this project. I especially like the design decisions to use specific wavelength LED's to take advantage of characteristics of the eye. Well done! :)

I found this instructable because I'm trying to make an illuminator for a basketball court for night playing. Would it be sufficient to just omit the lenses because the LED's would still be putting out 45 lumens/watt from your datasheets wouldn't they? Plus the light would be more diffused and wouldn't be blinding to look at i imagine.

Basically this design is appealing because of the contained batter pack and stuff; there isn't a readily available power socket nearby.

Thanks in advance :)
Hy! Gr8 job....
I like 2 Try this...
crobson4 years ago
hey. was wondering what sort of lumens i would get off white ones. as i would like to build one for work... and white would be better.

bbennett24 years ago
Is there a way to use 2 turquoise, and 2 red leds on this model, and then use one of the buttons to switch in between the 2 colors? I'd like a headlamp with red led's so that I do not lose my natural night vision when hiking at night; however it would also be nice to have the turquise lights for times when I want a more traditional headlamp... any suggestions?
Turquoise-colored light is still within the range of your night vision, so you don't need to switch to red.
snotty4 years ago
I made mine solar powered.

Someone asked me "Is that solar powered?" I had my solar charger at home but the question prompted me to make my helmet solar charged. 

40 minutes later I had a thin film panel and a diode on there and it's working fine so far.

Now to make a charge level indicator.
blacknkhak7 years ago
i like the idea a whole lot. here are a few suggestions . watch band instead of head band puts the light where your hands are which is extremely helpful for construction related applications. a simple automotive rheostat switch with a single resistor would vastly improve light intensity issues and provide a moonglo effect for periods when only tiny light is necessary. another fact is more bulbs don't mean more light. the intensity of the flashlight does not increase with more bulbs and the light spread increases only modestly while battery life is diminished greatly. four widely spaced bulb would work better than four closely grouped ones.
brad blacknkhak7 years ago
I'm sorry, I have to disagree no almost everything you said. 1) This was built to be a bike light. A watch band bike light wouldn't be useful. You want to put it on your wrist, that's fine. 2) An automotive rheostat would significantly reduce the efficiency of the circuit. While running at low power you'd be losing large amounts of power to the "dimming" circuit. Truth be told, cutting power to individual lights would be a better way to dim this unit. 3) More bulbs DOES mean more brightness, provided the system has enough power drive all four. If you want more spread (not really useful for bike riding), then you can angle yours differently. If multiple lights in the same place didn't "add" brightness, you wouldn't be able to see city lights from space.
blacknkhak brad7 years ago
does having four tires on a bike make it go faster? if this idea was meant to be strictly for one application then why call it head lamp and not bike light? all modern rheostat circuitry is identical to your "buck puck" only undoubtedly clunkier. finally , a significant problem most people have with very bright and focused lights in dark areas is blindness, creating a bike light with a less tight beam would allow for a general field of vision that would undoubtedly allow for natural eye movement that occurs autonomous of the head's orientation. PLEASE UNDERSTAND your creative undertaking is first rate in my view my suggestions are only intended to illustrate enthusiasm.
Maybe someone already mentioned this but I think brightness is added logarithmically which means twice the number of bulbs does not mean twice the amount of perceived light. Sound volume works this way; you need way more (maybe 10 times more?) for it to sound twice as loud for our ears. And I think our eyes see in the same way. Maybe someone who really knows can tell us if we need 10 times more LED to increase perceived brightness 2x.
oops , peripheral blindness. sorry
mrsayao4 years ago
Hey Dan, Great work, I've been meaning to pick up this project for several years now and here I am, you're truly an inspiration!! I was able to source most of the parts, the only difference is that I'm using a single 9v alkaline battery due to portability needed. How would I calculate the resistors I need? I'm using 4 green LEDs that are spec'ed similar to the cyans. I'm not using this setup for a headlamp, so I don't need the full brightness, yet I'd still like to use resistors to lower the brightness further. I purchased a buckpuck rated for 1000mA. With 4 LED's hooked up @300mA each (1200mA total), does that mean I don't need the resistors since the buckpuck will only output 1000mA max? Each LED would be receiving 1.75v @ 300mA (2v accounted for the buckpuck).... Please please correct me if I'm wrong! I have a somewhat basic understanding of all this, but I don't have a teacher to tell me otherwise! Thanks!
For 9V use 3 LEDs in series (if Vf of LEDs is <3V) or 2 parallel pairs of 2 LEDs each. In general you want the power supply voltage a few volts more than the batteries. Now you can use a simple resistor to set the current. Say your forward voltage is 6.8V, at 9V in you have to drop 2.2V so for example 220mA, you need 2.2/0.22 or 10 ohms. For power it's V*I so 2.2*0.22 <0.5W use two 20 ohm 1/4W resistors in parallel if you don't have 1/2W R's, or 3 30 ohm, or 5 47 ohm etc. see below for why to use more larger Rs (small wattage).

The brightness will dim slowly as the battery power drains and the voltage drops, I consider this a good thing, rather than suddenly running out of light. For more fun (and a bit more work) you can arrange a set of switches that add in one 47-50 ohm resistor in parallel, for each switch (little DIP switches are good for this) Each switch will add in 40mA or so. Thus you can cheaply and easily adjust the brightness to the need at the time. Your eyes adjust to a huge range of brightness, often 40mA of light is all you need if you aren't trying to read and want to stay somewhat dark adapted. There is no need to have the light on "full blast" when you don't need to waste that power. And it's a lot cheaper than a IC current regulator.

Look up series and parallel if you aren't sure which is which.
I hope this helps, I love having cheap LED lights that I can adjust to the need at the time. I also do a similar trick with an LM317 wired as a current regulator, but that's another story.
Hi Gavin, thanks for the info! I studied hard and was able to complete
my project, http://www.instructables.com/id/LED-Light-Up-Sims-PlumbBob-That-green-pylon-above/ . I ended up using 3 LEDs with a buckpuck like how Dan did because of my own limited experience with electronics. He does use a LM317 in a different istable. Can you check out my istable and let me know what I can improve on? I decided on not using any switches to control the current, I bought a 1000mA buckpuck but only needed 750mA to achieve the best efficiency, so I calculated the resistor value and put some in parallel in order to get closest to 750mA. Thanks again!!
mrsayao4 years ago
Hi Dan, I have a crap load of 9V batteries at my disposal. They're duracell alkaline... will they work? Would I be able to use 2 of the batteries to account for the overhead, since the buckpuck is regulating the voltage to the LEDS? Also, will I burn out the main big switch since it's rated at 14v? Great work!!
gatorbill4 years ago
great diy project,dan!!.....very detailed,and complete. i am going to check out your other articules. thanks so much for posting!!
instruct394 years ago
i have 3 words for you, and they are SHOOP DA WHOOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Couldn't you just use red?or a cyan/red
why red? because red photons(light particles)do not affect your night vision(as far as I know)
so your eyes will still be able to see in the dark sort of if the light dies and as
Lol loy1 said the rod receptors will still work when you turn off the light.
This is for brightness, not truly a "night vision" headlamp.
you did actually read the title, fool,
its called a "Ultimate Night Vision Headlamp" so it is for night vision
although not necessarily as i was saying if the light fails then your night vision would remeain active
The author is saying this is for seeing at night, not seeing in the dark.
yet you fail again, it is dark at night therefore my argument stands. let me rephrase this... the human eyes are adapted to see(ish) at night if they need to. this is done by opening the pupil to allow more light in. it is dark at night, yes? the human adaption to light levels is known as NIGHT VISION seeing as nighttime is dark. you can test the pupil thing in a dark room with a torch. However i was saying it would be good to be red as red light unlike all other light does not interfere with human night vision other colors would disrupt dark seeing abilities ... if i had a torch (not red) and it failed (batteries?) and i had no way to recharge the torch my eyes would be adapted to the ample levels of light but red light would not make ur eyes used to high light levels so it would illuminate while allowing your "night vision" to maintain itself even if the torch dies.
You're right about the red light not affecting your natural night vision, but night vision equipment allows you to see without casting light over the area.  This is basically a very bright head lamp, not true night vision. 
yes but if its batteries failed then if the lights where red your natural dark seeing type style abilities would not be compromised. also i never meant night vision as in splinter cell type things i meant seeing in the dark without a light source.
Hopefully one's batteries won't die, and if they do, then it will take ~1 minute for your eyes to fully adjust.
well your certainly optimistic. i was i only pointing out a simple way it could be improved but seeing as potential improvements and ideas are such foolish ideas to you i think I'll go and do something else
I appreciate your ideas, but in this particular Instructable the author is trying to attain as much brightness (for our eyes) as possible, and using a red light would decrease that. For your own project you could make a red one easily.
why would red decrease that?
sorry about double post the reply didnt seem to work first time
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