How does the US military reduce collateral damage in contested territories by providing squads with real time information to help them accomplish their objectives? Tanagram Partners wanted to explore this topic with DARPA and use augmented reality technologies to provide both headquarters and deployed squads the ability to use voice and visualizations to help gain “situational awareness” so they can make better real time decisions – and reduce civilian casualties.
Methods & Practices
DARPA chooses projects based on a modified technology that could have military purposes. Tanagram Partners turned that on its head and proposed a desired outcome and not a specific technology. DARPA gave a Level 1 grant to explore our hypothesis. I assigned the company the book Wired for War by PW Singer which went into great detail how automation and technology was changing military doctrine and also what it meant to be a soldier.
We researched past DARPA proposals that dealt with situational awareness, or the ability to use past experience in the present in order to make informed future decisions, and augmented reality technologies. We explored how the military makes decisions at the brigade level as well as how they were restructuring organizationally to reduce the number of layers of decision making. We also reviewed squad level content to understand the day in the life of these small units and the challenges they face in new types of asymmetrical warfare.
We then identified scenarios where augmented reality technologies through glasses, cameras and speakers could coordinate together through a supporting operating system that would connect with the Department of Defense's Global Information Grid to support documented scenarios and the tenants of situational awareness. It would support the projection of maps, voice activated and gestural painting of objects in a landscape, the ability to identify other squad members without visual confirmation, and allow real time communication and collaboration with the Tactical Operation Center (TOC) at the Brigade Level.
We decided to tell the value of iARM through a comic book format which is story driven, visual and with few words. This was paired with an appendix which took each frame and described specific situational awareness principles and iARM technologies to support it.
Impact & Outcome
DARPA found our final recommendations interesting since no previous group had ever submitted a comic book to them within a detailed report. They found it easy to understand the concepts and value for both squads and brigade leadership. The New York Times wrote a story about it. While we did not get a Level 2 grant, Tanagram transferred the concepts to fireman and fire fighting since the core principles were the same and did a proof-of-concept for a fire department.