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U.S. Army considers AR goggles for its military mutts

Dogs deployed by the U.S. Army could soon be fitted with augmented reality (AR) goggles.

The equipment would allow dog handlers to communicate commands from a distance while performing tasks such as searching for explosive devices and hazardous materials, or carrying out search and rescue operations.

The specially designed headset, which like regular AR goggles overlay specific information on a real-world image, are being developed by Seattle-based Command Sight in a project managed by the Army Research Laboratory (ARL)

Currently, army dogs receive commands from their handlers via physical gestures or laser pointers, but this means the animal has to be visible to the handler throughout. Commands can also be delivered remotely via an audio system, but the setup isn’t always reliable.

Fitting a canine with a pair of AR goggles would offer more freedom during activities in the field as the dog could then venture far beyond the current, limited zone of operation. The animal would be trained to respond to signals that appear on the display, while a fitted camera would provide a livestream to the remote handler.

Dr. Stephen Lee, a senior scientist at the Army Research Office, which is part of the ARL, said in an article on the technology that the system would obviously function differently for dogs.

“Augmented reality works differently for dogs than for humans,” Lee said. “AR will be used to provide dogs with commands and cues; it’s not for the dog to interact with it like a human does. This new technology offers us a critical tool to better communicate with military working dogs.”

A dog wearing an early version of the specially designed AR goggles. U.S. Army

Dr. A. J. Peper, who set up Command Sight in 2017 with the aim of enhancing communication between humans and animals, suggested the technology “could fundamentally change how military canines are deployed in the future.”

Peper said the research team is still in the early stages of applying the technology for use by dogs, but described the results from the initial efforts as “extremely promising,” saying that much of the work has so far been conducted with his pet rottweiler.

“His ability to generalize from other training to working through the AR goggles has been incredible,” he added.

The technology is currently being tested using a wired system, but the final design, which could be ready within a couple of years, would be wireless. Training a dog not to pull the goggles off may be another challenge altogether.

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