Delaware University researchers have developed an augmented reality system that helps soldiers detect explosive devices from a distance.
The new technology is part of a five-year, $1 million project funded by the U.S. Army Research Office and headed by Chandra Kambhamettu, a Delaware professor of computer and information sciences and director of the Video/Image Modeling and Synthesis (VIMS) Lab.
Soldiers in combat have to constantly scan their surroundings for improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a signature weapon of modern warfare. These homemade bombs often stay hidden from plain sight, nestled in bushes, buried underground, or sometimes stuffed inside other objects.
Landmines, IEDs, and other homemade bombs struck 6,461 people worldwide in 2015, killing at least 1,672, according to a report by the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines and Cluster Munition Coalition.
Survivors are often left with devastating injuries. In a study published in BMJ Open, 70 percent of people hit by IEDS in Afghanistan required multiple amputations.
To keep soldiers away from these deadly weapons, Kambhamettu and Philip Saponaro, a post-doctoral fellow, have come up with an augmented reality system that uses traditional cameras, thermal infrared sensing and ground penetrating radar to find and classify potentially dangerous objects from up to 30 meters away.
According to the researchers, both technologies complement each other. Regular cameras collect visible light, while infrared cameras detect heat and are unaffected by light, making them ideal for nighttime use, foggy conditions, and dust storms. The system’s radar uses radio waves to probe the surrounding environment.
“With infrared, you can see and understand more than you would with just visible light,” Kambhamettu said. “Then, with radar, you can see objects that differ from their surroundings, buried up to 3-5 inches.”
Even if one sensor modality fails to detect an IED, another may reveal it: “Some objects that are completely invisible to traditional cameras are easily spotted by the thermal cameras,” contends Saponaro.
According to the researchers, the multi-camera systems could be deployed on autonomous vehicles, drones, or robots sent to scout the surroundings before troops move in.
Image credits and content: Army Research Lab, Evan Krape/University of Delaware