In the trenchesHi-tech goggles to reduce number of friendly fire incidents

Published 13 April 2011

The modern battle-field is saturated with autonomous, remotely controlled platforms and weapons, and everything moves very fast; in addition, many of the engagements take place in close quarters; all these increase the risk of friendly fire; DARPA wants a small New York company to develop augmented reality goggles which will tell soldiers on the ground which air assets are nearby, bearing which weapons, thus resulting in more accurate destruction of enemy assets, less risk to friendly forces, and fewer civilian deaths

Ranger and NFLer Pat Tillman, killed by friendly fire // Source:

One of the more poignant aspects of the modern battlefield is friendly fire. The most recent example is the attack by coalition planes on a unit of the anti-Gaddafi rebels in Libya.

The modern battlefield makes friendly fire almost inevitable. There are many autonomous pieces of equipment – missile-carrying UAVs, cruise missiles, smart bombs of all kinds – which, on many occasions, are preprogrammed and remote-controlled, thus making it more difficult for them to recognize and quickly adapt to changes on the ground (for example, a military unit of a friendly force which is mistakenly positioned too close to the intended target.

DARPA wants to change that by equipping troops with an augmented reality goggles technology. The goggles will let troops see through the eyes of a nearby UAV in order more accurately to target its weapons.

Fast Company reports that DARPA sees the system working through a modified Vuzix video-goggles device, and it recently awarded a contract to small Rochester, New York-based firm to develop the technology. Vuzix’s goggles offer a “personal cinema” experience thanks to tiny screens and clever optics contained in the eyewear – and Fast Company notes that the effect of donning them is to give the viewer the experience of looking at a much larger screen which is much farther away.

Vuzix is helping DARPA with an augmented reality version that includes head-tracking technology. When a solider puts such headgear on, he would get real time video and data from a battlefield computer overlaid on his usual view of the world — letting him build a more accurate mental picture of where a target is and how best to fire a weapon. “The goggles could even tell him which air assets are nearby, bearing which weapons, and thus result in more accurate destruction of enemy assets, less risk to friendly forces, and fewer civilian deaths,” Fast Company says.

Paul Travers, CEO of Vuzix, commented, “We are very pleased to have the opportunity to develop this next generation system, which offers a competitive step-up for our military personnel. Recent advancements in micro display quality, combined with our patented Blade Optical system, are finally enabling the delivery of the HD head mounted displays (HMD’s) which will help improve our ground forces’ safety and effectiveness.”