DARPA has finally demonstrated one of its most promising inventions: an augmented-reality HUD system that will give soldiers the same advantage of a jet fighter pilot. It displays battlefield data over the soldier's environment, identifying friendly and enemy forces on land and air in real time.
The system is nothing like Google Glass, which projects into the iris causing eye strain. Instead, the system overlays data over your natural field of vision using a new holographic display. There's no video of the system in action, but DARPA has provided this image that gives a good idea of how things look to to the soldier:
The new invention is called Urban Leader Tactical Response, Awareness & Visualzation. ULTRA-Vis doesn't interfere with the soldier's vision, which is one of the main requirements of the US Army. According to DARPA, it uses a "light-weight, low-power holographic see-through display with a vision-enabled position and orientation tracking system."
Using the ULTRA-Vis system, a Soldier can visualise the location of other forces, vehicles, hazards and aircraft in the local environment even when these are not visible to the Soldier. In addition, the system can be used to communicate to the Soldier a variety of tactically significant (local) information including imagery, navigation routes, and alerts.
Breaking Defence's Sydney J. Freedberg Jr tried it at DARPA Demo Day, celebrated in the Pentagon's Courtyard. His description is impressive. The data is superimposed "directly over your natural field of vision, without requiring you to look up at an eye-straining angle as with Google Glass or look down at a smartphone display as with the Army's Nett Warrior system. Nor does the display block your field of vision like the ill-fated monocle display on the Army's earlier Land Warrior."
The result is just what the fighter pilots experience: true and effortless augmented reality. The prototype is still not ready for production and will probably change quite a bit before they deploy it, but they are definitely in the right direction.