At DSEI, Elbit Systems UK welcomed the arrival of the Ride Like a Pilot cyclists, the Royal Air Force team that cycled from RAF Valley in North Wales to London’s ExCel Centre to raise money for the SSAFA charity. Throughout they wore glasses equipped with miniaturised technology based on the systems Elbit developed for F-35 pilot helmets.
The concept of taking helmet systems out of the aircraft and into other fields began at Elbit’s Israeli incubator, where engineers can co-opt their defence work into their passions. As those in the military tend to keep fit, cycling was a natural partner. However, the company isn’t stopping there as it plans to explore the ways this technology can be transferred from the cockpit to ground forces.
From fighter to jet to combat
The glasses developed for the Ride Like a Pilot cyclists have a similar use case to a soldier on patrol; both need something light that doesn’t disturb their vision and allows them to execute their mission successfully. The ‘Everysight Raptor’ glasses developed by Elbit allowed the cyclists to see turn-by-turn navigation, time, and, crucially, vital signs. These are all measurements that could be critical for troops deployed on the ground.
Elbit Systems UK commercial director Matt Chuter told Army Technology: “You can see a map in here [the glasses] and your route, and then you can see the road as well.”
While great for cyclists navigating from A to B, putting this kind of information directly in front of a soldier’s vision could be important in combat deployments. Soldier’s exiting a vehicle, or orchestrating an operation in hostile territory, will not always have the luxury of being able to spend time checking a device or analysing a map. Putting the objective, where they are, and their route directly in front of them means troops can stay focused on the threats that may lay in wait around them.
The glasses technology, developed by Elbit’s augmented reality (AR) subsidiary Everysight, went into the commercial incarnation of the glasses. Elbit learnt lessons from converting fighter jet equipment into the smaller package that are easily transferable. By shrinking equipment and making it cheaper, the cost and weight reductions can be transferred back into the defence sector in a variety of ways.
Another key component of the glasses is the built-in camera, which can be used to beam video back to social media channels through the glasses’ onboard networking capabilities. However, crucially for the military, if you can transmit video to social media, it is not a stretch to be able to beam it back to a command centre, giving those involved in mission planning a direct, live-feed of operations. This could also be used in an intelligence capacity as if a soldier is injured medics would know exactly what they are walking into.
Blending advancements in land and air
The system is similar to Elbit’s IronVision ‘see through armour’ technology, deployed in helicopters and tanks where situational awareness is important to survivability.
Chuter explained: “If you’re landing in snow, dust or sand and have a brownout or whiteout scenario, you are looking out the window and at that crucial last 50 feet of landing you can’t see anything”.
Iron Vision mitigates this through a multi-spectral camera on the bottom of the rotorcraft, allowing the pilot to ‘look through their feet’ and safely land.
Elbit’s Dominator integrated infantry combat system (IICS) kit, as explained by Chuter, can ‘project through the glasses’, putting a suite of soldier awareness systems directly in a soldier’s eye-line. In a standard configuration, the Dominator kit sees a small screen all-in-one wearable computer strapped to a soldier’s chest, giving them a full picture of the battlespace. Whereas systems on most modern fighting vehicles can capture a continuous image of what is outside a tank and display it on a screen greatly enhances situational awareness allowing individual troops to turn and look through the armoured hull is even better.
The next step for this technology is getting the military to realise it exists and understand the potential.
Chuter explained: “I think the current development challenge is you’ve got to create demand. People have got to know that the technology is out there and, actually, Everysight is a really good way of getting a lot of knowledge of the capability capacity of wearable information glasses.”
The systems will next be furnished with ballistic glass for increased durability.
Competing for attention
Elbit isn’t the only company operating in this space and developing the potential of putting information directly in the vision of operators. When Microsoft announced the Hololens it immediately sparked the interest of the US Army which recently signed a deal with the tech giant to further develop the system for troops. The US Army is set to purchase thousands of the headsets to deploy across its military.
Size is integral for Elbit and Microsoft, with the cycling use case being a key- test for the future of augmented reality glasses in the hands of warfighters. Soldiers and cyclists have a key thing in common; helmets. Giving soldiers advanced systems is not advantageous if it hampers their survivability. The Raptor glasses present a clear advantage; if they can fit under a tight, aerodynamic cycling helmet they can also fit under a ballistic helmet maintaining a soldier’s protection while extending their capabilities.
At DSEI Elbit did not say if or when it plans to offer the Raptor glasses to soldiers, but the direction of travel and the company’s experience in the field from IronVision and the F-35 helmet makes its adoption seem likely.