Honeywell Starts Testing Its Windowless War Truck
The American military is working to add a lot of tools to its arsenal. Drones. Lasers. Laser-shooting drones. Drone-killing lasers. But the researchers devising the future of warfare are doing some subtraction too. One thing you won’t see on the battlefield of tomorrow? Windows.
Todays, windows are as important as they are inconvenient. You need them to see where you’re going, but they’re vulnerable to attack, not to mention vision-obscuring grime. That’s why the defense contractors competing in Darpa’s program to develop a new generation of ground vehicles have so far stuck to a common theme: sayonara, windows.
In January, Raytheon previewed its entry to Darpa’s Ground X-Vehicle Technologies program, which aims to keep American soldiers safe by ditching windows in favor of laser-mapped virtual renditions of the outside world.
Now Honeywell has unveiled its competitor, a system that taps augmented reality to give operators a complete sense of their surroundings, no old-timey windows necessary.
The system, which Honeywell recently tested using professional drivers at an off-road course in Arizona, could be used on all sorts of military ground vehicles. It features panoramic internal displays that provide a view of the outside world, one unobstructed by dust and dirt or by the thick pillars necessary in combat vehicles. Roof-mounted cameras collect that external imagery, which onboard computers stitch together into a cohesive image.
Honeywell’s designers didn’t settle for a simple camera view. They want to equip soldiers inside these vehicles with mixed-reality visors that augment those displays with essential intel.
“We can put any information on the visor that helps improve the situational awareness of the driver,” says Brian Aleksa, a senior manager in advanced technologies at Honeywell Aerospace. “We displayed speed, heading, and position for the field trials. We can display any symbology that helps the operator effectively complete his mission—all within the driver’s field of view.”
That’s all well and good, as long as you can produce a world view that doesn’t inadvertently trigger motion sickness in everyone inside the window-free vehicle. Aleska says his team is working to make the display as smooth as possible and minimize latencies and discrepancies between what the various cameras capture and what’s shown on the vehicle’s screens.
So far, it’s working well, at least according to the company. A technician who also races cars with windows tried the system out, Aleska says, and recounted going from “nerve-wracking” to intuitive, almost immediately.
“We created an experience where the drivers quickly became confident with the system and trusted it to drive at speeds that exceeded our expectations on a rigorous off-road course,” Aleksa said, adding that top speeds reached 40 mph during the tests.
Next, Honeywell will integrate infrared and thermal scanning capabilities into the vehicle, and make sure they’ll hold up to the rigors of use on the battlefield. Which raises the stickier question of protecting these world-spying sensors and cameras, which will surely present tempting targets for enemy soldiers. So Aleska’s team can add that little problem to its to-do list.
Future of War