DARPA Designing Augmented Reality Goggles to Fight Friendly Fire

DARPA is pursuing augmented reality goggles tech that’ll let troops see through the eyes of a nearby UAV in order to more accurately target its weapons.

DARPA smart tech


Remember how the Beastmaster could see through the eyes of his pet eagle? DARPA does. And it’s pursuing augmented reality goggles tech that’ll let troops see through the eyes of a nearby unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in order to more accurately target its weapons.

The issue of accurate targeting and weapons-fire has a renewed interest in the wake of NATO mistakenly destroying rebel armor in Libya rather than Gadhaffi’s hardware, but it’s never been an easy task. One of the very best ways to deliver today’s smartest weapons is to have an “eyes-on” soldier in the field near the target relaying real time data up to the aircraft that’s about to drop a bomb–but this situation is not often practical or desirable and can be dangerous for both the soldier and the incoming aircraft.


“Smart” weapons controllers are typically very remote from the battlefield and may not have super-accurate or up-to-date information, thus risking innocent people being killed. A stiff bureaucracy aims to ensure these aircraft target correctly and minimize collateral damage, but those delays can endanger friendly troops’ lives. To find a medium, DARPA is trying to fast-track new digital systems that give local troops direct access to battlefield data that could aid with weapon targeting.

One way DARPA sees the system working is via a modified Vuzix video-goggles device, and it recently funded the small firm to develop the technology. Vuzix’s goggles currently offer a “personal cinema” experience thanks to tiny screens and clever optics contained in the eyewear–the effect of donning them is to give the viewer the experience of looking at a much larger screen that’s much farther away. But Vuzix is helping DARPA with an Augmented Reality version that includes head-tracking technology. When a solider puts such headgear on, he would get real time video and data from a battlefield computer overlaid on his usual view of the world–letting him build a more accurate mental picture of where a target is and how best to fire a weapon. The goggles could even tell him which air assets are nearby, bearing which weapons, and thus result in more accurate destruction of enemy assets, less risk to friendly forces, and fewer civilian deaths.

It’s essentially the same kind of targeting-info display you’ve seen in Terminator and any number of other science-fiction films, just applied using today’s technology–and it’s tech that’s adapted for the lightweight, long-battery-life, gaming and smartphone market too. War: now even more like a computer game.


About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.