UK engineers put warfare wearables to the test

UK engineers have successfully trialled a wearable sensor system for soldiers that they claim could improve situational awareness on the battlefield and help reduce the chances of accidental attacks on friendly forces.

Developed by a team from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), Roke Manor Research, QinetiQ and Systems Engineering and Assessment (SEA) the so-called Dismounted Close Combat Sensors (DCCS) technology was designed to improve navigation and enable soldiers and commanders to share information more effectively.

Critically, though the system does make use of GPS it is able to continue to operate when there is no GPS signal, making it ideal for use in buildings or when entering areas where the GPS signal is being jammed.

It’s able to do this thanks to inertial and visual navigation sensors when GPS signals are not available. By taking the last known GPS location, DCCS combines information from visually tracked features captured by a helmet camera and inertial sensors, accurately calculating where an individual is, and allowing people to be tracked in buildings and tunnels.

The team behind the project claims that it could also help to prevent so-called ‘blue on blue’ incidents where friendly forces are mistaken for the enemy.

The system allows commanders to track not only the location of personnel, but GPS, inertial and magnetic sensors on the weapon also accurately track where it is pointing. Reliable knowledge of both the location and the weapons direction instantly identifies if friendly troops are being targeted.

A combination of camera, laser and orientation sensors mounted on the personal weapon will allow them to highlight targets to other troops, unmanned aerial vehicles and aircraft at the press of a button.

This will be quicker, easier and less confusing than giving verbal instructions; it is also extremely accurate. The system has many other uses such as identifying wounded colleagues, the location of civilians and potential helicopter landing sites.

In addition, acoustic and camera technology automatically identifies where enemy weapons are being fired from, even if the individual hasn’t seen or heard it being discharged. This information is provided to the wearer and to commanders, allowing them to take appropriate steps to deal with the threat.

Commenting on the DCCS programme, Ken McEwan, the principal project engineer at Dstl, said: “[the programme] has shown that the concept works and that it has civilian and military applications.

Roke’s lead engineer on the project, Mark Coleman, added that the technology has potential applications beyond the battlefield, and could for instance, be used on autonomous cars, to monitor emergency services when entering buildings or to track mine rescue workers underground.

According to the DSTL, the system is expected to go into service at some point in the 2020s.