When explaining the concept of augmented reality to someone who has never heard of it, I find myself going through a series of common real-life and pop-culture examples to help them understand. Aside from explaining that the “1st and Ten Line” in football games and the computer vision of the Terminator are indeed forms of augmented reality, I often use examples from the military – the fighter pilot heads-up-display, for example – as well. In fact, the military has played a significant role in the early development of AR, and one company is attempting to make sure it is a large factor in the future of the technology as well.
A Chicago-based company called Tanagram Partners is currently developing military-grade augmented reality technology that – if developed to the full potential of its prototypes – would completely change the face of military combat as we know it. Tanagram CEO Joseph Juhnke presented the technology last week at the Augmented Reality Event in Santa Clara, California, and wowed the audience with his presentation.
Illustrations from Juhnke’s presentation tell the company’s story of how its technology could give American troops the upper-hand in hostile situations. First of all, the company is developing a system of lightweight sensors and displays that collect and provide data from and to each individual soldier in the field. This includes a computer, a 360-degree camera, UV and infrared sensors, stereoscopic cameras and OLED translucent display goggles.
With this technology – all housed within the helmet – soldiers will be able to communicate with a massive “home base” server that collects and renders 3D information onto the wearer’s goggles in real time. With the company’s “painting” technology, various objects and people will be outlined in a specific color to warn soldiers of things like friendly forces, potential danger spots, impending air-raid locations, rendez-vous points and much more.
In the above image, a spotter on a roof paints an area near his squad-mates in a red color, marking the area as a danger spot. The ability to virtually communicate the location of hostile forces to fellow soldiers is an invaluable technology to troops fighting in unfamiliar urban environments. The local fighters have a home field advantage because they are fighting in their back yards, in a way. Tanagram hopes to level the playing field – and then some – in an effort to help troops better understand their surroundings.
All of this technology can also be monitored from a central base location by military leaders. They can gather around a virtual map of the battlefield with live location data for their troops. Best of all, the system has a memory for the information put into it – which means soldiers new to an area that has been fought in before will have the benefit of knowing where previous danger spots were.
As futuristic and far-fetched as this seems, Tanagram is actually in the process of building this technology right now. The company is funded by a grant from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and plans on having a working proof-of-concept that runs on an iPhone by the first quarter of next year. Tanagram also hopes to have the server and client system operational as early as Q2 2011 as well as an open-source head-mounted display (HMD) client by the end of next year.