Soldiers currently have a piecemeal approach when gathering and sharing information on the battlefield. Because they are on foot, dismounted squads particularly risk surprise attacks since they rely on line-of-sight and must get very close to identify threats -- a limitation that DARPA has asked tech vendors to address in a recent request for information (RFI). Vendors have until May 22 to present concepts for technologies that would enable the "digitization" of dismounted squads, according to DARPA.
The agency has presented several focus areas in the RFI. One of them is sensing technologies for soldier health, operational status and location. This includes methods for monitoring physical health parameters -- such as heart rate and blood pressure -- that may impact soldiers' performance. Also important is the ability to automatically monitor ammunition capacity, physical load and communications. DARPA said it's looking for geolocation technologies, particularly for areas where there isn't global positioning system (GPS) access.
Another area of focus is non-optical remote sensing. The RFI asks for technologies that offer capabilities beyond vision or address the environmental limits in visual methods for surveillance, detection, identification, classification, tracking and measuring range. Examples of these non-optical remote sensing technologies include radio frequency (radar), acoustic (infrasonic and ultrasonic), olfactory and seismic. The other component is distributed sensing. Sensors worn by soldiers or deployed on a moving platform like a missile could provide squads with non-line-of-sight situational awareness.
[ Want to see how the Pentagon uses robotics on the battlefield? See Military Drones Present And Future: Visual Tour. ]
DARPA also seeks "tactical information synthesis and delivery," which is essentially a better way for squads to deal with large amounts of information. For instance, interpreting 3‐D map data to identify key locations on the battlefield, or recognizing moving vehicles and people. An additional challenge, DARPA said, will be utilizing the processing and storage capabilities available on handhelds and devices carried by soldiers.
In order for all of these technologies to work effectively, robust communications networks are needed. The RFI lists possible solutions that are short-range, high‐bandwidth, low‐power, covert and resistant to disruptions.
DARPA program manager Army Lt. Col. Joseph Hitt said such innovations could give soldiers enough time to react in dangerous situations without getting too close to attackers. The agency on Wednesday published an artist's concept of situational awareness technologies at work. "With digitization, the squad's long-loiter Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flying overhead could detect hostiles, alert the squad and automatically trigger the squad's quadruped robot to investigate ... The robot could automatically inform all squad members via visual and other cues about the hostiles' composition, location and weapon types," Hitt said in a statement. "We're looking to leverage emerging technologies, integrate and optimize them through rigorous experimentation, and deliver the decisive technological advantage dismounted squads deserve."