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Army tests head-aimer

Head-Aimed Remote Viewer (HARV) gives robot drivers a better view.

Major Michael Pottratz of the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center demonstrates proper fitting of the immersive binocular HARV display at the AFCEA West 2008 conference in San Diego.
Mark Rutherford

For Army researchers looking to give robot operators new ways to "see" via unmanned ground vehicles on the battlefield one thing is clear, legacy video doesn't cut it anymore.

It's not just broadcast quality or resolution that needs improvement, but the level of "telepresence": the sense of increased situational awareness that allows a robot driver to shoot and move and make fast decisions.

One possible upgrade is the three-axis Head-Aimed Remote Viewer (HARV), a dome enclosed, three-axel gimbal-mounted camera that slews around to match operator head movement. Wherever the soldier/operator looks, the unit instantly rotates to focus on that area. The operator's visual perception through the immersive binocular display is one of actually being onboard the vehicle, according to Chatten Associates.

It's not like watching a TV screen; it's more like standing there looking through slightly tinted glasses. Head-aiming capitalizes on the visual processing capability of the human mind yielding results that are three to four times faster than an ordinary pan/tilt systems with flat panel displays, according to the company. (See videos here.)

Chatten Associates

The way it stands now, operators must swerve the bot from side to side using a joystick to get a quick look around. But in this case, the operator's head position controls both the UGV sensors as well as where its weapon system is aimed. Head-aiming is twice as effective as the joystick-aiming, where tests showed that 15 percent of the hostile targets identified were actually friendly forces, according to Chatten.

The HARV includes optical and digital zoom, night vision, infrared illuminators and pointers, and stereo audio. It can also be controlled by a joystick, or a mouse control mounted on an infantryman's weapon's handgrip. This means the operator can keep his head up and not have to take his hands off his weapon.

Another attempt to improve robotic vision by Picatinny Arsenal - a super wide, fisheye lens called WARVVS (Wide Angle Robotic Vehicle Vision System). Seen here at West 2008 mounted on a SWORD UGV. A number of these units have already been delivered to Iraq and Army researchers are waiting for troop feedback on their effectiveness. Mark Rutherford