Army wants soldiers’ heads to control robots

You thought laptop glare was murder on your eyes? Try sending a fleet of wheeled robots down into the horrors of battle using nothing but your icy stare.

Sick of facing downward to look at the display from one of its remote controlled cars, the Army wants an "eyeglasses-like display" that can not only project the video feeds that its ground robots collect, but actually drive them.

Patching in the video from a Small Unmanned Ground-Vehicle is the easy part. The Army's spent years working on helmet displays to get field imagery projected onto an eyepiece. Nett Warrior, the wearable suite of sensors and computers, already does that. One Darpa-funded firm is looking to get flying drone imagery and targeting data onto a pair of holographic goggles.

But the program, called Heads-Up Display for Control of Unmanned Ground Vehicles, goes beyond that. "Eye tracking is of equal interest for either helping direct the robot or for controlling aspects of the display," the Army's solicitation reads. "At the end of the contract, successful operation of the prototype system controlling a robot shall be demonstrated in a realistic outdoor environment."

A voicemail to the Army's program manager for the glasses project wasn't immediately returned. And while the solicitation cites optics research and shows goggle displays from several companies, including some that peddle 3D virtual reality simulation, those aren't really applicable to controlling robots.

But maybe the goggles would be like a wearable Wii or ape the iPhone's accelerometer, which can already control a Desk Pets TankBot. It wouldn't so much send a signal to the robot from the wearer's iris so much as rely on you tilting your head, with motion sensing doing the hard work. Yes, your buddies will laugh at you as you jerk your head about. Before asking for their turn, at least.

The proposal emerges from a real challenge. The more time you spend looking down at a drone controller, the less able you are to move through your surroundings. Your hands, which might need to rapidly fire a weapon, are preoccupied. Keeping your head up and drone information coming into your headgear - " most likely be displayed to only one eye," the solicitation notes - has some utility. And whomever designs goggles that can control robots is bound to make a killing marketing them beyond the military.

Just design the headgear in the shape of Magneto's helmet. That's all we ask.

Photo: Flickr/Noah Shachtman

Army wants soldiers’ heads to control robotsThis post originally appeared on Wired's Danger Room. Wired.com has been expanding the hive mind with technology, science and geek culture news since 1995.