DARPA’s VirtualEye will Allow U.S. Troops to ‘See’ Inside Buildings

By | Jun 02, 2016 10:47 PM EDT

Marine kicking down a door in Iraq

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) expects to field in about two years an advanced 3D urban combat system that will allow U.S. soldiers to literally "see" through walls at what's inside a target structure before they rush into it.

Kicking down doors is a perilous job for U.S Army or Marine infantrymen doing battle in an urban setting, as its experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has proven. What's on the other side might be a high-explosive booby trap or insurgents covering the door with assault rifles or a machine gun.

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DARPA is developing the VirtualEye program along with Nvidia Corporation, a company famous for designing advanced graphics processing units for gaming. VirtualEye will create an on-the-spot 3D image of a room using input gathered from remote cameras.

The 3D image will allow U.S. warfighters to virtually explore a real time 3D recreation of a target room or building from a remote location and quickly pinpoint the exact locations of enemy combatants and booby traps.

"I can do all this without having a soldier endanger himself. Especially when you have adversaries like ISIS who are trying to set booby traps to, in fact, harm the soldiers when they come in just to do the room clearing," said Trung Tran, DARPA program manager.

To create the 3D image, VirtualEye evaluates images from multiple cameras mounted on portable battlefield robots or tiny aerial drones. As for hardware, VirtualEye only needs a tablet and cameras attached to robots such as the Foster-Miller TALON, which are small, tracked military robots designed for reconnaissance and combat.

The need to see inside rooms or buildings is a matter of life and death for soldiers since U.S. ground troops are engaging in urban combat more than ever before. Fighting inside towns and cities is a favorite tactic of terrorists such as the Taliban and Isis since this form of warfare negates some of the advantages enjoyed by the U.S. such as superior technology and firepower.

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