U.S. Navy Developing New Augmented-Reality Diver’s Helmet
Andrew Wheeler posted on June 07, 2016 |

The relationship between technology and weapons engineering stretches as far back in human history as you wish to go. Though the buzz for augmented reality is at an all-time high right now, the concept of overlaying critical information for decision-making through a viewer has its roots, like many technologies, in warfare.

The genesis of the heads-up display (HUD), a precursor to modern augmented-reality headsets, occurred during World Wars I and II, using a device called a reflex sight that was first invented in 1900. The reflex sight gives users the opportunity to look through a piece of curved glass and see an image superimposed on their field of view. In World War I, reflector sights with a targeting image like a reticle (crosshairs) were used on some aircraft, but the device really became ubiquitous during World War II.

Even in many of today’s HUDs, the reflex sight is still used as a base component. But today’s advances in augmented reality have given rise to the idea of standardizing the flow of real-time information into a viewer to help users calculate the best possible action depending on their job and responsibilities. 

The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division recently announced that Navy divers are going to have a chance to use an augmented-reality HUD in a special diver’s helmet currently in development. 

Underwater Systems Development Project Engineer Dennis Gallagher is part of a team that is developing something they’re calling the Divers Augmented Vision Display (DAVD). Divers will have the ability to sift through a real-time visual display of a bird’s-eye view of their physical location relative to their diving location (also known as sector sonar), as well as diagrams, schematics, pictures and even some augmented-reality video content. 

The hope for the DAVD system is that it will help divers become more accurate when looking for different items, people and downed ships and when performing salvage operations and other diving missions. (Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy. Photo by Richard Manley.)
The hope for the DAVD system is that it will help divers become more accurate when looking for different items, people and downed ships and when performing salvage operations and other diving missions. (Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy. Photo by Richard Manley.)

Divers won’t have to rely on briefings about a given mission as much and can give directions to DAVD system operators to control the sector in which the augmented-reality display appears in their viewer. They can also just turn it off if they so desire. 

This type of augmented-reality diving helmet could be used by the Coast Guard and other first responders as well as scientists and commercial divers. Another goal of Naval Sea Systems Command (00C3) is to develop enhanced sensors to perform high-resolution sonar and create better underwater video systems. The feature will give divers a bit of supervision and heightened awareness of their surroundings (“situational awareness”), even when visibility is very low.  

A sector sonar image with navigation aids as seen through the DAVD via lab simulation. (Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy. Photo by Richard Manley.)
A sector sonar image with navigation aids as seen through the DAVD via lab simulation. (Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy. Photo by Richard Manley.)

Gallagher’s engineering team is engaged in collaboration with 20 divers who share their enthusiasm for making this augmented-reality HUD display a reality for Navy divers and other potential beneficiaries. 

The next phase of the project is designing components for both the helmet system and a version with a full face mask. Gallagher’s team and a group of divers are slated to perform in-water simulation tests this fall, starting in October. 


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