WEARABLE SENSORS TO HELP TROOPS ON THE FRONTLINE
20 September 2016
Roke Manor Research (Roke) has successfully demonstrated the latest in wearable sensor technology to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).
The technology could help troops to navigate without reliance on GPS, automatically detect threats and share information to help protect troops and increase operational effectiveness.
These ground-breaking Dismounted Close Combat Sensors (DCCS) are the result of collaboration between Dstl and industry partners Roke, QinetiQ and Systems Engineering and Assessment (SEA).
Navigating without GPS
Most of us will be familiar with the error message ‘no GPS signal’ on our smart phones and satellite navigation systems. For some it is just a minor inconvenience but for troops, losing GPS could be the difference between life and death.
Where GPS signal is lost, commanders lose the ability to monitor their troops’ location and wider situational awareness is withdrawn from those on the ground. The urban environment poses the biggest challenge: signal is often lost when entering buildings when there is no clear line of sight with the GPS satellites or if the signal is being jammed.
The DCCS system uses inertial and visual navigation sensors, combined with clever algorithms to provide 3D navigation data when GPS signal is not available.
Taking the last known GPS location, DCCS combines information from visually tracked features captured by a helmet camera and inertial sensors, accurately calculating where an individual is and allowing people to be tracked in buildings and tunnels.
And it’s not just troops that could benefit from this technology. It has significant implications for the civilian world too with the potential to aid the emergency services in navigating within smoke-filled buildings and the automotive sector in providing a highly accurate 3D reconstruction of car accidents.
DCCS could also help to prevent so-called ‘blue on blue’ incidents where friendly forces are mistaken for the enemy. The system allows commanders to track not only the location of personnel, but GPS, inertial and magnetic sensors on the weapon also accurately track where it is pointing. Reliable knowledge of both soldier location and weapon direction instantly identifies if friendly troops are being targeted.
Fast and accurate joint fires
A combination of camera, laser and orientation sensors mounted on a soldier’s personal weapon will allow them to highlight targets to other soldiers, Unmanned Arial Vehicles and aircraft at the press of a button. This will be quicker, easier and less confusing than giving verbal instructions; it is also extremely accurate. But it has many other potential uses too, such as identifying wounded colleagues, the location of civilians and potential helicopter landing sites.
Locating shots quicker
Acoustic and camera technology automatically identifies where enemy weapons are being fired from, even if the soldier hasn’t seen or heard it being discharged. This information is provided to the wearer and to commanders, allowing them to take appropriate steps to deal with the threat.
Roke’s lead engineer on the project, Mark Coleman, commented: “We independently considered 252 fledgling technologies from across industry, academia and beyond, before developing, distilling and fusing them to create the concept of an integrated wearable sensor system which we then built and trialled. In addition to providing military advantage, we’ve also seen how DCCS lends itself as a testing platform to bring technology to the frontline faster.”
Dstl’s principal project engineer, Ken McEwan, also said: “This has been a very complex and technically challenging project. Despite these challenges there is no doubt that the demonstration programme has been very successful. It has shown that the concept works and that it has civilian and military applications.”
Read more about DCCS here.
DCCS is expected to go into service in the 2020s, giving our Armed Forces a battle-winning edge. Re-packaging off-the-shelf technology could allow DCCS to look like this.