Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And with the US Army, there is definitely a will.
Case in point — much like headsets used by America’s fighter pilots, the militarized Microsoft’s advanced HoloLens headset was designed to spot enemy targets day and night on future battlefields.
Along came the scourge of Covid-19, and a completely different set of needs, Sidney J. Freedberg Jr. of Breaking Defense reported.
Enter Tom Bowman, director of IVAS Science & Technology Special Project Office with the C5ISR’s Night Vision Laboratory at Fort Belvoir, Va.
Bowman realized the system’s built-in infrared sensor could be used to read a person’s body temperature from a safe distance and took the initiative, the report said.
Microsoft engineers made a few adjustments to the software and in just four short days, the first modified IVAS prototypes arrived at Fort Benning.
Now, hundreds of soldiers are now getting their temperatures checked using the Army’s rapidly evolving Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), the report said.
“We’ve always planned for an agile software system and a digital platform that can be upgraded and adapted to use against emerging threats in the future. No one anticipated the next threat to emerge would be a virus, but that’s the enemy we face today,” said Bowman, who — to use a football analogy — brought a special team to Fort Benning to tackle the pandemic while the rest of the team drives on with design and testing.
IVAS has been a poster child for the Army’s effort to overhaul its notoriously troubled acquisition system.
Instead of a decades-long, multi-billion-dollar development program, this program started just two years ago and is on track, despite the pandemic, to deliver over 40,000 devices to combat troops next year.
How? The Army started with an off-the-shelf commercial product, the Microsoft HoloLens, then ran it through round after round of field trials, with soldiers and engineers working side by side to fix problems, make upgrades, and test the changes.
The quick fix has its limits, of course. It couldn’t cope with temperature fluctuations that occur outdoors, so the Army had to find a big enough indoor space for hundreds of soldiers to troop through for testing while still maintaining six-foot plus of social distance.
The Army also decided it was safest to do a quick recalibration of each system after 10 tests to ensure it was reading correctly. Even so, one group of 300 soldiers was processed in less than half an hour.
Still, IVAS is also no match for widespread testing of nasal swabs for viral RNA or of blood samples for antibodies.
Since so many carriers of the Covid-19 coronavirus are asymptomatic — no temperature, no cough, no symptoms at all, yet still capable of infecting others — just checking for elevated temperatures will miss large numbers of cases.
The US Army has spent more than a decade trying to figure out how soldiers in the field can benefit from the so-called information revolution, Popular Mechanics reported.
Early efforts involved PDAs, smartphones, and even tablets, all of which failed for one reason or another. One major reason was that it was a distraction to fire up a smartphone during combat and then use the interface to figure out where friendly units were.
VAS goggles, on the other hand, allow the user to maintain his or her situational awareness while interacting with the device, Popular Mechanics reported. A soldier can continue to scan a hillside for enemy movement while using the Hololens goggles.
IVAS features include: A color see-through digital display that makes it possible for the user to access information without taking his eye off the battlefield; thermal and low-light sensors that make it possible to see in the dark, literally; rapid target acquisition and aided target identification; augmented reality and artificial intelligence, to name just a few.