Instagram For The Enlisted

Military think tank DARPA's newest project focuses on mass-producing smart helmet- and weapon-mounted cameras for troops that integrate standard and infrared imagery into every photo... and shares them, Instagram-style. Best filter ever?

Troops in the field have a problem: They carry a lot of cameras and imaging systems. The Pentagon requires many warfighters to go out with both standard cameras and infrared systems--a bulky load. And switching between the cameras takes time that could be better spent ... not being injured or killed. So military think tank DARPA came up with an idea: Create a helmet-mounted camera that amalgamates standard images, near infrared images, and infrared into a single image. Then add Instagram-style photo sharing for combat units.

The new product, called PIXNET, was announced on November 2; DARPA is looking for an external partner to develop an integrated mounted camera and Android smartphone system that can be manufactured at scale. DARPA will also fund research into the new product. Once created, PIXNET will be waterproof and usable outdoors in all weather conditions. The camera system will be controlled through a special Android phone and integrates enough image systems to save warfighters vital time.

The image that troops see on their helmet mounts or weapon sights infuse standard video with infrared auras and share the results among the members of their units through a secure network--so the best view of a battlefield or target area almost instantly becomes every member of the team's view. (Right now, images have to be shared manually.) Apache helicopter pilots use a somewhat similar technology called Arrowhead that integrates imagery from multiple sources into a single targeting system. PIXNET brings that idea to the ground level.

“Existing sensor technologies are a good jumping-off point, but PIXNET will require innovations to combine reflective and thermal bands for maximum visibility during the day or night, and then package this technology for maximum portability. What we really need are breakthroughs in aperture design, focal plane arrays, electronics, packaging and materials science […] Success will be measured as the minimization of size, weight, power and cost of the system and the maximization of functionality,” said DARPA's Nibir Dhar in a press release.

However, PIXNET won't be a James Bond-style gadget for Special Forces. Instead, the military wants to produce the cameras at scale--DARPA is calling for partners to create a gadget which, when released, can have 10,000 units manufactured per month at a cost of $3,300 per unit. Although that price is relatively expensive to civilian customers, it's small potatoes for the defense industries. Creating T-1000-style sights for weapons and high-tech helmet cams might just be a part of the next war.

[Image: DARPA, Flickr user The California National Guard]

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Find Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, on Twitter.

Add New Comment

0 Comments