Top Army Official Tests Out Futuristic Smart Combat Glasses

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Soldiers use the Integrated Visual Augmentation System during a training session at Fort Pickett, Va. (U.S. Army)
Soldiers use the Integrated Visual Augmentation System during a training session at Fort Pickett, Va. (U.S. Army)

The U.S. Army's new boss recently got a chance do shoot-house training with the latest Microsoft-based, smart soldier glasses.

Ryan McCarthy, who is now serving as acting secretary of the Army, and incoming Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville traveled to Fort Pickett, Virginia earlier this spring to try out early prototypes of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS.

The Army awarded a $480 million contract to Microsoft in November to develop IVAS -- a high-tech device that relies on augmented reality to create a synthetic training environment for soldiers. The experience is reportedly similar to first-person shooter video games. The system is being designed to also be worn in combat, projecting the operator's weapon sight reticle into the glasses.

"He and I literally put them on, and we went through a shoot house together," McCarthy told Military.com on a flight to Fort Knox, Kentucky.

"Here's the thing -- they are empty rooms, because we had the synthetic feed."

McCarthy then described how the IVAS device presented targets that resembled enemy fighters from terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

"I literally came in a room ... and they looked like Taliban targets and ISIS guys with black turbans," he said. "They had one where they had a guy holding a civilian. It looked like a very good video game."

IVAS is part of the Army's effort to create a synthetic training world so soldiers can run through many repetitions of combat scenarios, such as clearing urban areas and engaging enemy forces, without having to leave home station and travel to training facilities.

Leaders can view the data compiled by IVAS during the training to show soldiers where they need improvement.

McCarthy and McConville were joined by Army and Marine Corps sergeants who also took a turn with IVAS.

"We had a bunch of NCOs from the 75th Ranger Regiment and the 1st Marine Division, and they did the shoot house and reminded me that I have been out for a while," McCarthy chuckled, referring to the days when he served in the Ranger Regiment. McCarthy served in the Army from 1997-2002.

McCarthy acknowledged that these were early prototypes of IVAS that need further development.

"You would do it for a little bit, and they would go out and [engineers] had to make a tweak and they would get the screen back up," McCarthy said.

Rangers and Marines liked the technology, he said.

"The one thing that they all really liked about it was the greater depth perception," he said.

"It was like a pair of glasses ... and literally when you are walking through a room and seeing the target, I had depth perception to my left and right, so I could see down the hallway."

IVAS replaces the service's Heads-Up Display 3.0 effort to develop a sophisticated situational awareness tool soldiers can use to view key tactical information before their eyes.

Officials hope to complete the prototyping phase on IVAS by 2020; when the system might be fielded to soldiers is still unclear.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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