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2/1/2012
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DARPA Works On Virtual Reality Contact Lenses

Digital images could be directly projected onto lenses to improve soldiers' situational awareness.

>Slideshow: Next Generation Defense Technologies
Slideshow: Next Generation Defense Technologies
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The Department of Defense (DOD) is working on contact lenses that would enhance soldiers' vision to improve intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) activities without the need for specialized equipment that is currently used in the battlefield.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA) agency is doing work at Washington-based Innovega iOptiks to create wearable eye lenses with tiny, full-color displays onto which digital images can be projected to give the wearers better situational awareness, according to the agency.

The lenses would allow users to focus simultaneously on images that are both close up and far away, which would improve their ability to use portable displays while still interacting in real time with the environment around them, according to DARPA. A graphic on the agency's website shows the basic design of the lenses.

[ Read about other uses of virtual technology in the military. See DOD Explores Virtual Worlds For Military Training. ]

The technology is being developed as part of DARPA's Soldier Centric Imaging via Computational Cameras (SCENICC) program, which aims to integrate a range of technologies--including advanced imaging, optical-sensing, immersive displays, and video processing--to "eliminate the ISR capability gap that exists at the individual soldier level," according to the agency.

These activities are currently hampered by equipment such as binoculars, night-vision goggles, and the like, which "provide limited performance" as well as weigh a soldier down, according to the agency.

"The current gap in soldier-centric situational awareness results from the predominantly airborne, video-based, downward-looking, operational concept employed by nearly all ISR systems producing critical limitations to resolution, field-of-view (FOV), waveband coverage, persistence, and access to actionable information at the soldier scale," according to a broad agency announcement about SCENICC on FedBizOpps.gov.

A better solution, which the virtual-reality contact lenses could provide, would "operate hands-free, provide similar or better magnification on-demand, while providing FOV equal to that of the unaided eye," according to DARPA. It also ultimately would cost less than the equipment currently used for soldier ISR.

Using virtual reality technologies to improve how soldiers perform on the battlefield has been a particular interest of the U.S. military for some time, not only for ISR activities but also for soldier training.

The DOD already uses a variety of virtual worlds to simulate battle, and is even working on technology that would allow soldiers to actually feel explosions or debris and gunshot impact during training through computer simulation.

InformationWeek's 2012 Government IT Innovators program will feature the most innovative government IT organizations in the 2012 InformationWeek 500 issue and on InformationWeek.com. Does your organization have what it takes? The nomination period for 2012 Government IT Innovators closes April 27.

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