Sights are set on tapping new technology to help better protect soldiers and the canines they guide.
U.S. military dogs might one day be equipped with augmented reality goggles that their human servicemember partners can remotely provide guiding commands through during dangerous rescue operations or explosive device hunts.
Seattle-based small business Command Sight produced a technological prototype that could enhance troops’ safety by enabling exactly that, and some say it could fundamentally transform how the U.S. military’s canines are deployed down the line. Having completed a phase I project developing the prototype via a Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, program steered by the Army Research Office, the company was selected for funding through phase II, to further refine the potential product.
“The military working dog community is very excited about the potential of this technology,” ARO senior scientist Dr. Stephen Lee said in an announcement published Tuesday. “[It] really cuts new ground and opens up possibilities that we haven’t considered yet.”
When it comes to heeding instructions from the people that lead them, military working dogs generally follow hand signals, laser pointers, or walkie talkies and cameras strapped to their own bodies—all of which can lead to confusion for the animals or risk of unwanted exposure for humans. But the new prototype offers human handlers the ability to see from the dog’s point of view, and a means to give commands while staying completely out of sight.
According to the release, the goggles “are specially designed to fit each dog with a visual [indicator].” That indicator directs the canine to a particular point, where it can then follow a visual cue presented in the glasses.
Research exploring dogs’ vision and cognition underpins the in-development device and technology. “We will be able to probe canine perception and behavior in a new way with this tool,” Lee noted.
With ambitious hopes to help close the gap in human and animal communication, Dr. A.J. Peper founded the small business Command Sight in 2017—subsequently identifying this military use case and creating the initial augmented reality glasses for pups prototype.
“Much of the research to date has been conducted with my rottweiler, Mater,” Peper said. “His ability to generalize from other training to working through the AR goggles has been incredible.”
Government SBIR programs hone in on prototypes and projects that hold promising potential for commercialization. After completing the first phase of the Army Research Office’s version of the initiative, the Command Sight team was tapped to move on to the second phase for further development. Though this first iteration of the device is wired, requiring the dogs to essentially be leashed, over the next couple years researchers aim to make it a manufacturable wireless product.
The Defense Department’s Rapid Reaction Technology Office has also put up funding in support of that work in the next phase and the company is collaborating directly with Navy Special Forces to build prototypes that are custom-fitted to—and will eventually be assessed on—their existing military working dogs.
“We’re excited about getting this into the hands of the soldier, hopefully in just a few years,” Peper said.