Oct. 6 (UPI) -- Researchers have developed augmented reality goggles that would allow handlers to give commands to military working dogs while staying out of harm's way.
The military often uses dogs to scout areas for explosive devices and hazardous materials and to assist in rescue operations.
But working dogs need handlers who can give them commands while they work -- typically by using hand signals or laser pointers, which can pose a safety risk by providing a light source.
Being present to give those commands can put soldiers in harm's way, and generating a light source can also be dangerous in some situations.
Handlers have tried audio communication -- using a camera and walkie talkie placed on the dog -- but the verbal commands can be confusing for the dog.
So researchers funded by the Army's Small Business Innovation Research program and managed by the Army Research Office have developed goggles dogs can wear while working -- and get directional commands from soldiers working elsewhere.
The first prototype was built by Command Sight, a Seattle-based company started in 2017 by A.J. Peper to bridge human-animal communication.
The goggles are tailored to fit each dog and have a visual indicator that lets the dog be directed to a specific spot by responding to a visual cue in the goggles, using input from a soldier, who can see everything the dog sees while using a separate device.
"Augmented reality works differently for dogs than for humans," said Dr. Stephen Lee, a senior scientist with the Army Research Office. "AR will be used to provide dogs with commands and cues; it's not for the dog to interact with it like a human does. This new technology offers us a critical tool to better communicate with military working dogs."
The prototype is wired but researchers are hoping to develop a wireless device in the next stage of development.
"We are still in the beginning research stages of applying this technology to dogs, but the results from our initial research are extremely promising," Peper said. "Much of the research to date has been conducted with my rottweiler, Mater. His ability to generalize from other training to working through the AR goggles has been incredible. 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."
The augmented reality system uses goggles military working dogs already use for protection in inclement conditions and in aerial deployments.
The Department of Defense Rapid Reaction Technology Office has already provided funding for the next phase of development.
Command Sight is using that funding to work with Navy Special Forces to build prototypes that will be tested on their military working dogs, each of which has received a 3D scan to get dimensional data to understand where to place optics and electrical components, specific to each dog.
"The military working dog community is very excited about the potential of this technology," Lee said. "This technology really cuts new ground and opens up possibilities that we haven't considered yet."