by Nathan Gain and Christina Mackenzie
Imagine an armoured vehicle whose windows have been replaced by a wrap-around, augmented virtual reality instrument panel to help improve the crew’s tactical awareness. This is the challenge that US company Honeywell is addressing under a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the US agency in charge of developing new military technologies. The Honeywell project, part of the Ground X-Vehicle Technologies (GXV-T) programme to develop lighter military vehicles, is based on a supple screen that wraps around the interior of the vehicle.
Honeywell is using its “near-to-eye” technologies developed for military and civilian aircraft cockpits to develop a display panel that would project a wide-angle, high-definition view of external conditions 360º around the vehicle. Honeywell is proposing to combine low resolution images on the screen with higher definition images captured by binoculars attached to the crews’ helmets. The system could potentially allow the operator to track optimal routes over difficult terrain, review infrared and terrain classification views, and see allies and adversaries. All this would allow the driver to concentrate on other tactical action. In parallel Honeywell is working on developing new sensors and cameras to supply the external views of the vehicle.
The first phase of the programme, for which Honeywell received a $1.4M contract, was launched last June and will end this June with the delivery and demonstration of the technology to DARPA. The agency will then decided whether or not to push ahead with the second phase and finance Honeywell to continue with the development of this technology. This second phase would in any case include a full demonstration at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, using a test vehicle.
However, the presence of a screen does not necessarily mean there would be no windows. Honeywell is working on both options. But it is not the only company, nor the first, to work on the idea. Last autumn BAE Systems put its version, Battleview 360, on the market. Also based on technologies developed for fighter aircraft, in this case Eurofighter Typhoon, the Battleview 360 is a helmet-mounted monocle and a touch screen that allows the wearer to see a real-time video feed (visual and infrared) from cameras mounted on the vehicle.
The GXV-T programme is exploring new vehicle technologies that could cut 50% off the current weight of armoured vehicles, double their speed, guarantee their access to 95% of all types of terrains and reduce their signature for enemy sensors. The programme also aims to supply the crew with improved tactical awareness and this is where the Honeywell project comes into play.