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U.S. Soldiers Hail Army’s Futuristic Goggles “Something Almost Out Of A Video Game”

 

David Hambling

The Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS is a set of augmented-reality goggles combining night vision with navigation, targeting and the ability to see exactly where friendly and enemy troops are. After previous failed attempts, the U.S. Army may have succeeded in turning science fiction into reality and created something that the soldiers appreciate.

IVAS, designed by Microsoft MSFT +0.6% – the display is essentially a rugged military version of their HoloLens — is a Head-Up Display for footsoldiers which combines maps with a targeting reticle. A thermal imager mounted on the user’s M4A1 carbine links to the display via BlueTooth, showing exactly where the weapon is aimed without having to look down the sights. This produces a very different firing position to the usual Army cheek-to-stock stance.

“I tucked the [buttstock] under my right arm and was able to use it like that. It felt stable; it was just different. It looked like something out of a Rambo movie," Sgt. Sam Crawford, a team leader in 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, told Military.com.

On a firing range, the soldiers were able to hit targets out to 300 yards without difficulty using the new device. In principle IVAS could be used for firing from a trench or shooting around corners without the firer needing to expose themselves: only the weapon needs to see the target, but at this stage – known as the third soldier touchpoint evaluation – the soldiers were still getting used to the device.

IVAS proved equally effective when it came to finding the way when the scene was completely obscured by smoke. Crawford says that navigation was ‘incredibly easy’ with the augmented reality display.

“You would have arrows and a compass where you could walk to those points,” Crawford said. And it would be something almost out of a video game just projected out in front of you on the landscape — 'Go this way.'"

The system allows communication between team members, so the entire squad can co-ordinate their actions, and, as Crawford says move around ‘super-fast’ compared to their speed without IVAS. And it can take in data from other sensors, for example showing the location of known hostiles or IEDs. It can even get a video feed from the palm-sized PD-100 Black Hornet tactical drone helicopter, although that was not part of the latest trials.

User friendly control are vital for military kit, and IVAS appears to have passed this test. The control panel is located on the wearer’s chest, with ‘tactile reference points’ built in to the casing to find the right button without looking.

This is the Army’s third attempt to field a practical battlefield system for footsoldiers. The 1990s Land Warrior, which was found to be too heavy at ten pounds, and burned through batteries at an unsustainable rate. Disgruntled soldiers compared Land Warrior unfavorably with the communications, navigation and computing power of their smartphones. The later, lighter and more successful Nett Warrior was based on a Samsung smartphone; IVAS adds an augmented reality display, better communications and integration with the thermal imager.

IVAS is a billion-dollar program and represents the fusion of several different technologies for sensing, computing and in particular the challenge of communication. For communication between soldiers IVAS relies on a MANET, a new type of high-speed self-configuring mobile network. Comunication bewteen different devices carried on the body presented different problems; soldiers notes that leads could come unplugged, causing problems, an issue likely to be corrected in the production version.

After the latest tests, the Army now has 40,000 hours of soldier data. The development schedule for IVAS is ambitious, and many initially doubted that it was achievable when the program started in 2018. IVAS now looks likely to reach soldiers in 2021 as planned — and that will be the biggest test of all.

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