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Air Force lab testing Google Glass for combat use

Dr. Gregory Burnett, center, chief engineer of the Battlefield Air Targeting, Man-Aided Knowledge, or BATMA(N), group, and software developer Andres Calvo, right, analyze a graphic representation of movement trackers as 2nd Lt. Krystin Shanklin tests Google Glass at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

DAYTON, Ohio — Google Glass may become the latest accessory on the battlefield as Air Force researchers explore how the wearable computers can make their airmen more effective.

Researchers at the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright-Patterson have tested Google Glass, essentially a wearable computer on an eyeglass frame, to see if it can improve performance, said Gregory M. Burnett, chief engineer of the Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided (K)nowledge lab, otherwise known as BATMAN.

An air traffic controller who uses the technology could spot icons and call signs denoting aircraft without looking down at a radar scope, Burnett said. Or Air Force para-rescue jumpers could track the medical status of multiple patients and assess who to evacuate first via helicopter, he said.

Google Glass wearers view a small screen on the right side of the frame that displays information. A track pad contains a camera that beams the data above the right eye. Researchers want to make sure they aren’t distracted wearing the high-tech specs before they’re sent to the field.

The technology is meant to work with a smart phone, said Andres Calvo, a Ball Aerospace software development engineer working on the project with the Air Force.

For example, a smart phone can send data to Google Glass, and Google Glass can transmit real-time imagery to display on a smart phone.

“We want (airmen) to maintain awareness of their environment at all times and that’s one of the potential uses,” he said. “If you place information on a smart phone or other wearable device you have to look down to see it whereas (with Google Glass) the information is right there.”

Google Glass, or similar see-through technology, could allow a user to multi-task competing demands, researchers said.

“We are trying to find a solution for our end users to increase their situational awareness, but still have the ability to do other tasks such as speaking to others on the radio, or texting or whatever they might have to do,” said 2nd Lt. Krystin Shanklin, a 711th Human Performance Wing behavioral scientist at Wright-Patterson. “It’s one of the many different technologies that we are doing research on to increase situational awareness.”

One BATMAN study measured the accuracy of shooters wearing Google Glass frames.

The technology could also lighten the burden on information transmitted to troops in the field, according to 2nd Lt. Anthony Eastin, a 711th Human Performance Wing behavioral scientist.

“Our guys have a lot of information that’s being told to them,” Eastin said. “They’re talking to the pilots, they’re talking to the commander, they’re talking to the guys around them. It’s a lot of information being put through auditory (means). We try to offset that.”

The military has had see-through technology for decades in heads-up displays in aircraft cockpits, and is working on helmet-mounted displays for pilots in the new F-35 Lightning II. But wearable computer frames would mark a milestone for airmen on the ground.

The research lab obtained two Google Glass frames through the company’s Explorer Program, but is not working in conjunction with Google on the experiment, Burnett said. The glasses are not yet commercially available, but Google expects to offer them later this year.

While Google Glass could be adapted to military missions, civil libertarians and privacy advocates have concerns about how the devices might be used in public places. The glasses, for example, can covertly videotape what a wearer sees on the street and transmit the data to Google servers.
 

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