Magazine article National Defense

Google Glass Eyed for Wearable Soldier Gear

Magazine article National Defense

Google Glass Eyed for Wearable Soldier Gear

Article excerpt

* Army officials have been after a way to outfit soldiers with wearable computers for years, but have repeatedly failed to find a system that both delivers information coherently and avoids impairing troops' perception of the battlefield.

The military's notoriously Byzantine process by which it develops and adopts technology may not be entirely to blame, engineers that bridge both government and commercial technology spheres tell National Defense.

While parts of the military suffer from an "institutional rejection of innovation," even in the swifter commercial sector wearable computers have generally been failures until recent advances, said John Clark, chief innovation officer for Thermopylae Sciences and Technology.

Based in Arlington, Va., Thermopylae specializes in taking commercially available technologies and converting them to military and government use.

"For years, people have been trying to make wearable computing happen, but to be honest ... they have all been terrible," Clark says.

The Army found that out the hard way during several efforts to create a wearable situational awareness and computing system for soldiers. So far, the service has nothing to show for its efforts.

"But there has been some really cool innovation that has happened in late 2012, early 2013," Clark said. "How can we take those emergent technologies, and make them implementable and affordable for government and commercial clients?"

The most notable entry recently into the mobile-computing market is Google Glass, about 1,500 of which are in the hands of testers like Clark. Other companies, including a startup called Oculus VR, have developed or are in the process of bringing to market similar wearable computing devices.

While Glass was not developed for military applications, its importance is the awareness the device brings to the possibility of ubiquitous mobile computing, Clark said.

"For all the work Google has put into it, there is no real desire to take [Glass] and apply it directly to a military mission," he said. "This is a consumer product. But because of what Google has done ... there will be other similar models that are perhaps ruggedized that can apply directly to [special operations forces]. Or, it will inspire people to integrate the technology into riflescopes or night vision goggles."

The point of Google Glass is to develop a revolutionary method of interacting with technology--to figure out the optimum way to deliver information and have the user digest it without distraction. Currently, the system performs only rudimentary tasks like sending text messages, taking photos and video and receiving news and social media alerts. Eventually, Glass or an evolutionary version will allow more sophisticated applications.

Instead of a pair of glasses or a monocle with a heads-up display, Glass positions a small prism over the upper right corner of the wearer's right eye. The user can either slide a finger along the arm of the device or speak directly to it to perform a number of tasks like reading email or taking photos. The prism becomes transparent and is all but unnoticeable when not in use. There are no lenses or screens over the eyes, so the wearer can naturally hold a conversation or walk, unobstructed, even when the screen is activated.

The technology has gained the attention of scientists and engineers who develop and purchase equipment for the special operations community. However, concerns were expressed in May at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference that Google Glass in its current form could harm operators' eyesight. …

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