In the defense market, research and development is critical for success. Militaries around the world are becoming increasingly aggressive in seeking new technologies and innovations that they hope will give them an advantage on the battlefield.
But as we all know, that battlefield is changing. Just as digital transformations are changing how people think about commercial and consumer products, the same progress and innovations are shaping the future of global security. In a speech last year at Stanford University, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter warned that the same Silicon Valley products that have enabled “boundless transformation” for consumers have also presented “a degree of risk to the businesses, governments, militaries and individual people who rely on them every day…making it easier, cheaper, and safer to threaten them.”
Then he posed the following question: With a growing reliance on technology that adversaries are eager to exploit, how do we protect the very freedom and opportunity that technology enables for “our country, our future, our children [and] our people?”
His answer: Ongoing collaboration between government and industry, particularly in the area of research and development. Citing a long tradition of R&D partnerships spanning 75 years – from the Manhattan Project to the National Science Foundation grant that helped birth the first Google search algorithm – he renewed the government’s commitment to partnerships with the market’s most innovative minds.
The Pentagon’s tradition of collaboration continues with DoD’s establishment of the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, or DIUx, located in Cambridge, Mass. Headed by a top researcher from MIT, it is the second DIUx location in the country, joining a Silicon Valley facility that was established last year. As noted by Secretary Carter, MIT and Cambridge have long been epicenters of defense and industry collaboration.
Thales is among many companies that collaborate through MIT. In 2015, Thales launched Thales xPlor at the MIT Media Lab, establishing a strategic function for engaging with the U.S. start-up and academic ecosystem to develop new, innovative solutions as well as promote a culture of innovation. As proof-of-concept for driving innovation, Thales xPlor simultaneously unveiled DragonFly, a product rooted in the company’s helmet-mounted displays for the military.
This type of R&D collaboration is not only vital for the government, but is also critical to the success of Thales. Across the company’s various markets, Thales directs nearly 20 percent of its sales to R&D efforts, and employs more than 22,000 scientists and engineers worldwide. Globally, Thales holds more than 15,000 patents.
There is no mistaking Thales’ commitment to R&D, which is a vital part of its mission to improve the digital future of its customers. Thales continues to align R&D efforts with disruptive technology trends to seek synergies with current defense applications.
With technology becoming more mobile, personal and social, Thales is shaping today’s digital environment through the development of Augmented Reality (AR) capabilities.
According to some analysts, AR is rapidly becoming one of the most important enterprise-level technologies. PwC recently noted that in a DHL pilot project last year, warehouse workers equipped with AR-enabled smart glasses committed fewer errors and achieved a 25 percent increase in efficiency. In another example, Boeing factory trainees assembling a mock airplane were 30 percent faster and 90 percent more accurate using AR-animated instructions on tablets versus those using PDF documents.
In the defense market, innovators predict that virtual reality will one day enable portable command centers, and that warfare simulations will increasingly become more like the consumer market’s AR-enabled videogames. In fact, the U.S. Army is developing a warfare simulator – the “Future Holistic Training Environment Live Synthetic” program – that can be remotely accessed to provide realistic AR combat training virtually anywhere.
Thales has already deployed AR solutions for the defense aviation market. Among these are TopOwl, a helmet-mounted display that becomes a vital extension of a pilot’s eyes, movements and actions. Since its development ten years ago, it has joined the pantheon of critical military systems that are battle-proven every day in areas of operation around the world.
In 2009, TopOwl systems were deployed for the U.S. Navy on Huey helicopters aboard the U.S.S. Bainbridge during the rescue of Maersk Alabama captain Richard Phillips from pirates off the coast of Somalia. They were also on-board helicopters deployed with Marine Expeditionary Units in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, and with Marine Expeditionary Force operations as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
This experience in the development, manufacture and fielding of helmet mounted sight display systems enabled Thales to think more creatively about evolutions in the AR.
Thales’ Scorpion, the world’s only full color helmet-mounted display system, is another leap forward in AR technology for the warfighter. Scorpion provides full color symbology and video for day and night missions, in addition to targeting, sensor video, and Degraded Visual Environment (DVE) imagery, giving pilots considerably improved situational awareness and mission effectiveness. It decreases combat pilot workload, facilitates crew exchange during the most critical phases of the mission, and improves safety and security. Scorpion utilizes the unique and patented Hybrid Optical-based Inertial Tracking (HOBiT) system, which ensures the highest accuracy and reliability while dramatically simplifying cockpit integration. Scorpion is fielded and combat-proven technology integrated aboard F-16 Block 30/32, AC-130W and A-10 aircraft. Scorpion was also selected for the Army’s rotary wing Common Helmet Mounted Display (CHMD) solution via the Air Warrior program.
What today is available only in the sky will soon be available on the ground, as well. Thales’ Communication Enabled Networked Tactical Augmented Reality (CENTAuR) system – a ground-based helmet display – will provide specialized dismounted soldiers with unsurpassed heads-up situational awareness and capabilities that, until now, have only been available to aviators.Based on much of the R&D that led to TopOwl and Scorpion – and an enhanced vision for digitizing the battlefield – this networked hands-free, heads-up position tracking technology provides operators with blue and red force identification, target acquisition, and image transmission enabled by the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) and other wideband mesh networks.
In addition to displaying maps and other fixed data, CENTAuR’s sensors track body and helmet movements and orientation. This stabilizes target, mission, and navigation symbols so they remain earth-referenced as helmet orientation and position change – even in GPS-denied environments.
It was not so long ago that AR-enabled heads-up helmet displays were something out of science fiction, but with Thales technologies they have become vital tools for the modern warfighter.