Looking for a way to communicate with soldiers that doesn’t add to their already full plate, the University of Central Florida, with the help of funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is experimenting with “touch” communications.
At the center is a plan to use vibrating sensors that can quickly alert a soldier to danger. Adopting a human factors philosophy, Army Col. Bill Johnson, the liaison between DARPA and the research team, notes that adding more visual or aural technology can mean running the risk of overloading the soldiers with too many messages to be processed at once. “What we’re finding is that sometimes less is better,” Johnson told the Associated Press. Turning to touch, much like a tap on the shoulder, is a simpler means of conveying a message.
“Touch is very, very potent. This is a very basic, prime sense that, in the confusion of combat, gives real reality,” project researcher and psychology professor at the University of Central Florida, Richard Gilson, told the AP.
To make touch work on the battlefield, Gilson, with a team of graduate students, is working on a belt covered in sensors that would quickly let the wearer know, for example, from which direction a sniper’s bullet was fired. The belt wearer could quickly turn in the direction indicated by the belt, have his or her aim fine-tuned by additional sensors and finally be notified via vibration of when to fire. In firing range tests, soldiers who were given verbal commands regarding where and when to shoot took 2.1 seconds to complete the action; soldiers who were given touch-based commands completed the same action in 1.29 seconds.
In addition to faster response times, Johnson sees another key benefit to a touch-based system of communication. “Rather than trying to pump [soldiers] full of visual and aural information, [we] allow them to declutter themselves,” he said. Other hands-free systems rely on sight or sound that may require a soldier to stop to read something, hear an order over other noises or render the communication system useless in the dark. Touch can be used accurately almost anywhere at any time.
Sources: Associated Press; Naples Daily News