Augmented reality goggles for military canines may help their soldier-handlers stay out of harm’s way by sending commands to the dogs from a distance when on dangerous missions.
A rottweiler called Mater is one cool dog and a pioneer. He has his own augmented reality headset, custom designed to fit his furry face. The AR device is a wired prototype developed by Mater’s owner, scientist Dr AJ Peper at his company Command Sight in Seattle, USA, working together with the US Army Research Laboratory.
The prototype provides proof of concept. In the future each dog will have a 3D scan of its skull taken to ensure a good fit by breed, and to permit optimal positioning of the command signals in relation to the animal’s eyes. “We are still in the early research stages of applying this technology to dogs, but the results from our initial research are extremely promising,” Peper says. “Mater’s ability to generalise from other training to working through the AR goggles has been incredible, [but] we still have a way to go from a basic science and development perspective before it will be ready for the wear and tear our military dogs will place on the units.” He adds that Mater is very responsive to new training, especially when food is involved.
Military canines are no strangers to eyewear and already use ‘doggles’ routinely during air drops, when they jump from aircraft in tandem with their trainers. They also wear them to protect their eyes from dust and sand. It will be a small jump for these intelligent creatures to look to their doggles for instructions coming in from their handler via AR.
Dr Stephen Lee, senior scientist at the Army Research Laboratory, comments: “This new technology offers us a critical tool to better communicate with military working dogs. We will be able to probe canine perception and behaviour in a new way with this tool. The military dog community is very excited about the potential for AR goggles.”
Place yourself in the paws of a military dog, trained to locate explosive ordinance devices (EODs) or tackle terrorists who might be armed with suicide vests. The AR headset is intended to allow the dog to receive commands remotely from a trainer who, instead of having to be relatively close by, directing the dog using hand signals, laser pointers or voice commands, can be further away from potential harm. The headset can also be used where stealthy operations are essential e.g. during Special Operations.
The dogs will not be immersing themselves in a virtual reality field of operations, but will receive specific command cues from their trainers in the form of an avatar, or via simple directional signals. An onboard camera inside the goggles allows the trainer to see exactly what the dog is seeing and may tell them to turn to the left or right, or to investigate an object more closely.
Command Sight is now working with US Navy Special Forces to build prototypes that will be tested on their dogs. Peper expects that a wireless version of the doggie AR device will be available in months.
Outside the military realm, AR goggles for dogs could clearly be useful in other hazardous situations like post-disaster search and rescue in unstable buildings and could also help with instructing service animals.