Through a five-year program called the Urban Phototonic Sandtable Display (UPSD), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) created a real-time, 360-degree, 3D holographic display to help military commanders and mission planners better visualize and plan battles.
The technology is intended to replace the military's current most-advanced technology for this activity, which features two-dimensional HD flat-panel color displays, according to DARPA.
One Air Force and two Army research centers are the first to use and apply UPSD, which allows up to 20 participants to simultaneously view holographic images that can be manipulated in various ways on the screen. Austin, Texas-based Zebra Imaging researched and developed the technology for DARPA through a contract awarded in 2005.
The idea behind the project was to make the ability to visualize conditions in urban areas, where today's conflicts often happen, easier for military battle planners, according to DARPA.
Special 3D goggles or glasses are not needed to use the technology, which places planners in front of a large-format, interactive 3D display that enables full visual-depth capability up to 12 inches, the agency said. UPSD also produces two-dimensional printouts of the 3D imagery rendered onscreen so troops can use them in the field as guides.
UPSD is a complement to ongoing work DARPA has been doing to leverage 3D in advanced military technologies, particularly for planning missions in complex terrain.
DARPA recently demonstrated 3D mapping capability through its High Altitude LIDAR Operations Experiment (HALOE) project. The project collects high-resolution 3D data faster than traditional methods, giving U.S. military forces in Afghanistan access to it to plan military activities in both mountainous and urban terrain, according to DARPA.
Military planners can use UPSD's 3D display in conjunction with technology from the HALOE project to provide an even more detailed view of mission-planning operations, the agency added.