Seeing into the future

New device would give soldiers a 'heads up' on battlefield threats

By CHRIS CARROLL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 22, 2014

WASHINGTON — The confusion of battle gets amplified in tight urban environments, where one street or building blends into another and the group firing just around the corner could be friend or foe.

But a helmet-worn device on display Wednesday at the Pentagon could help cut through the fog. Known as the Urban Leader Tactical Response, Awareness & Visualization, or ULTRA-VIS, it’s designed to give troops a heads-up holographic display showing the locations of friendly troops, aircraft and other assets, as well as potentially identifying locations of enemy fighters.

The system is under development by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s high tech research arm. It was one of dozens of programs on display at DARPA’s Demo Day — a vast, military science fair of sorts that encircled the entire courtyard of the Pentagon. Most of the booths featured DARPA staff and contractors showing off data-crunching programs and esoteric cyber defense projects.

But a few, like ULTRA-VIS, were aimed at troops in the field. The system is designed to let dismounted infantry troops operate heads up and immersed in their environments, said program manager Yiftach Eisenberg. Important battlefield features are highlighted by holographic icons superimposed on their normal field of vision.

For example, Eisenberg said: “There’s an aircraft that’s obscured by clouds or its too far away to naturally see. You’d see an icon in that direction telling you that’s the aircraft, that’s its call sign, that’s where it’s coming from and where it’s going.

“If you can’t see that you’ve got friendly forces behind those buildings over there, it can tell you by putting an icon over there and labeling it,” he said.

DARPA and industry partners finished the prototype in recent months after five years of development, Eisenberg said. DARPA is ready to begin working with the military services to work toward fielding it in the future, he said.

“It’s going to be a function of working with the services to understand their needs, how to meet their needs, and work on things like ruggedization to get it out into the field,” he said.

Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_

A reporter attending a DARPA showcase tries out the ULTRA-Vis heads-up helmet system with the help of Jim Cook, an analyst with Applied Research Associates, at the Pentagon on May 21, 2014. The system overlays information and other icons in the display to show enemies, friendly forces, vehicles or aircraft in the environment even when they're not visible to the user.

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