Augmented Reality Goggles for Military Working Dogs Could Transform Rescue Operations
Denrie Caila Perez posted on October 30, 2020 |
The U.S. Army is working on remote communication between handlers and their dogs.
Mater, the dog of Command Sight founder, Dr. A. J. Peper, tests the initial AR goggles prototype. (Photo courtesy of Command Sight and the Army Research Office.)
Mater, the dog of Command Sight founder, Dr. A. J. Peper, tests the initial AR goggles prototype. (Photo courtesy of Command Sight and the Army Research Office.)

Augmented reality (AR) has become a popular tool for both human and industrial use. However, a recent research project is attempting to take the technology even further by applying it to human-and-animal communication—particularly dogs.

In partnership with the Army Research Office’s (ARO’s) Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) under the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, AR goggles are currently being developed for military working dogs.

Command Sight, a Seattle-based developer specializing in bridging human and animal communication, started working on the project back in 2017 after conversing with current and former military operators about the efficacy of communication between dogs and their handlers.

The AR goggles are specially designed to equip each canine with a visual indicator. This lets the dog be directed to certain spots and areas, as well as react to visual cues. On the other end of the system, the handler can also view what the dog sees in real time and can provide commands via the glasses.

The logic behind this integration is to allow a dog’s handler to still provide directional commands remotely when scouting for explosive devices and hazardous materials. Under normal circumstances such as rescue operations, providing commands can be both challenging and dangerous because it requires the handler to provide hand signals. This means the handler always needs to be within sight of the dog. Even when using laser pointers or audio communication, it can still be a potential safety issue.

Dr. Stephen Lee, an ARO scientist, shared that AR works differently for dogs than it does for humans.

“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. Even without the augmented reality, this technology provides one of the best camera systems for military working dogs,” Lee said. “Now, cameras are generally placed on a dog’s back, but by putting the camera in the goggles, the handler can see exactly what the dog sees and it eliminates the bounce that comes from placing the camera on the dog’s back.”

The system is built on goggles that military working dogs already use for protection against inclement conditions and aerial deployments. Dr. A. J. Peper, the founder of Command Sight, says that this will make device adoption much quicker and easier for both dogs and their handlers.

Peper shared that initial testing has mostly been conducted on his own dog, a Rottweiler named Mater. “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 science behind the technology requires a nuanced understanding of canine vision and cognition in order to successfully develop the device. Lee added that, besides the technology, the project is allowing them to “probe canine perception and behavior in a new way.”

The initial prototype is still wired and requires the dog to be leashed. However, the researchers are already working to make the device wireless for the second phase. Command Sight will also be working with Navy Special Forces to build more prototypes for testing on military working dogs. Dimensional data is tailored to each dog to ensure that optics and electrical components are positioned comfortably. The researchers are planning to continue developing a production-level wireless device over the next two years.

For more news and stories, check out how augmented reality is being used in minimally invasive spine surgery here.

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