Heads up: Augmented reality prepares for the battlefield

At last week’s Pentagon Lab Day in Washington, DC, the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) and Army Research Lab demonstrated a prototype of technology straight out of first-person shooter games—an “augmented reality” heads-up display that could help soldiers tap into sensors and other data.

Called Tactical Augmented Reality (TAR), the technology is the latest evolution of the Army’s effort to network soldiers together and give them “situational awareness” on the battlefield—where they are, where their friends are, where the adversary is, and everything else they need to know for their mission, tied into tactical communications. Over the past few years, CERDEC, ARL, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have been working on the core technologies to make augmented reality work on the battlefield, including the development of a platform called the Heads Up Navigation, Tracking and Reporting (HUNTR) system.

While HUNTR is relatively recent, it is built on nearly three decades of efforts by the Army to digitally enhance the foot soldier. Up until recently, those efforts ran up hard against the limitations of wearable computing. Even as the technology finally matures, it’s probably years away from seeing service in the field.

An Army video demonstrating what the service hopes tactical augmented reality can do for soldiers.

Back to the future

The Army has been trying to put things in front of soldiers’ eyes since the late 1980s. First was Land Warrior (or, as it was more formally called, the Land Warrior Integrated Fighting System). Land Warrior sprung out of a technology demonstration program in 1989 called Soldier Integrated Protective Ensemble (SIPE), which showed that enhanced sensors and communications could significantly boost the combat capabilities of small infantry units.

The concepts behind Land Warrior would get tried out and refined repeatedly over the next decade, but…

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