The US Army is trialing a new technology that could “fundamentally change how military canines are deployed in the future” — a pair of augmented reality goggles for dogs.
Dogs are put to many uses in modern militaries, from detecting explosives and searching for targets to accompanying infantry patrols in dangerous areas. Usually, handlers issue commands to their dogs using hand signals or laser pointers, but these techniques require line of sight with the dog, limiting how far canines can stray from their humans.
AR reality goggles, though, could let military dogs operate at a distance without handlers losing control. The goggles have a built-in camera that transmits live footage remotely, and a heads-up display that can be used to show commands to the dogs. A dog could be directed to search a specific location, for example, while their handler stays hidden.
The goggles are just a prototype for now and are being developed by Command Sight, a Seattle-based private company. The work is being overseen by the Army Research Laboratory. The prototype goggles are wired, but future versions will be wireless. According to a report from Stars and Stripes, the goggles’ command system works by simulating what a dog would see when following instructions via a laser pointer.
“Augmented reality works differently for dogs than for humans,” Army Research Laboratory senior scientist Stephen Lee said in a blog post. “AR will be used to provide dogs with commands and cues; it’s not for the dog to interact with it like a human does. This new technology offers us a critical tool to better communicate with military working dogs.”
The founder and CEO of Command Sight, A. J. Peper, said the work was in its early development but “extremely promising.”
“Much of the research to date has been conducted with my rottweiler, Mater,” said Peper. “His ability to generalize from other training to working through the AR goggles has been incredible. We still have a way to go from a basic science and development perspective before it will be ready for the wear and tear our military dogs will place on the units.”
The AR goggles themselves are adapted from an established piece of kit for military canines: protective goggles known as Rex Specs. Each pair of goggles has to be customized for its wearer, with 3D scans used to ascertain where exactly to place the HUD for optimal viewing angles. The familiarity of the Rex Specs, though, makes the goggles easy to adapt to, says Peper.
The researchers say they plan to develop the technology over two years to create a fully wireless prototype. After that, they’ll “get user feedback and revise the product for manufacturing.”