New technology from Army Research lets technicians “see” buried explosives using AR headsets.
Being in the military is a tough enough job as is, but I can only imagine the amount of stress the soldiers of the Army EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) unit go through on a day-to-day basis. Experts in the field of technical explosives, these specialists are tasked with the disarming and removal of unexploded improvised explosive devices, such as mines and other IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).
The job is even scarier when you learn just exactly how they do it. Conventional tactics for the discovery and disarmament of hidden explosives typically involves the use of metal detectors or a similar version of that technology attached to a specialized robotic device. From there, it’s a slow and steady scan of the area at a uniform speed and pace. Soldiers listen for a specific sound tone that identifies an underlying object. Mess up the pace or go just a little too fast and you’re looking at some potentially dangerous results.
Looking to help visualize threats, researchers at the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center have begun work on an exciting new form of bomb-detection technology that can provide visual data for soldiers via a AR headset or mobile tablet device.
Showcased recently at CERDEC’s testing center in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the prototype metal detector-type device was waved over a mound of sand where a nearby screen then projected a digital image of what lies within the depths of the sand.
“This gives us the opportunity to see signatures in the ground without taking away situational awareness,” spoke Sgt. 1st Class Jared Huffstickler, a combat engineer at CERDEC’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate countermine division.
Though the image provided is far from quality, it does do an excellent job of conveying crucial information about the subsurface. Best described as a “color-coded” pattern of data, the device translates foreign objects in bright colors such as red and yellow. This means the darker the colors get the less likely there’s anything there. The technology is also capable of discerning the shape of the object using advanced radar technologies.
“The radar can show the shape of a mine instead of a circle and the soldier can use that information to determine if it is a threat, something that needs to be remedied,” stated Chris Marshall, a scientist at the Army’s countermine division.
Once a soldier scans the area and collects the necessary geolocation data, the information will then be compiled into a “virtual map” and uploaded to a closed military network. This collected data would then appear on the heads-up display of any bomb technician approaching the area, informing them of situation and any hidden threats.
Current bomb-detection technology includes different sensors each equipped for specific scenarios. However, this new technology is modular, capable of being remounted onto various devices from handheld detectors, to robots and even drones. Marshall hopes this compatibility will lead to a more unified system of explosive detection.
There’s also talk of this being used for training purposes, providing trainees with information on their detectors speed and pace, keeping them better on track and therefore more accurate and efficient.
The technology is still in its early stages, so no word on when EOD’s can expect to get their hands on these bad boys, but initial reception is positive. After all, in a world where the enemy could be right below your boot, I don’t think anyone is going to turn down a technology that makes things a little clearer.