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For Army Humvee operators, a ‘Heads Up’ windshield display

New $5 million contract between UND, Applied Research Associates and DoD advances project to next level, Sen. John Hoeven says at press conference

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., speaks at a press conference at UND announcing $5 million in new funding for a project to develop an augmented-reality system for Army Humvees. To the right, a UND drone is on display. Photo by David Dodds/UND Today.

North Dakota ingenuity will help keep American soldiers safe on the battlefield in years to come, thanks to UND research that’s developing advanced “heads up” windshield displays for Army vehicles.

The augmented reality or AR displays will let soldiers access more and better battlefield data, researchers say. The information includes travel routes through dust storms and other hazards, battlefield threats around the vehicle and navigation support, even in areas where GPS is unavailable.

And on Nov. 19, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven joined UND President Andrew Armacost and other leaders in announcing a new $5 million contract between the University, New Mexico-based Applied Research Associates and the Department of Defense.

The contract supports the third phase of the project, in which UND – in partnership with ARA – is developing and testing an augmented-reality display system on an Army Humvee or High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle. The vehicle is on campus and served as a backdrop at the announcement.

‘Best possible information for our warfighters’

As a member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, Hoeven secured this funding in the fiscal year 2021 appropriations bill, bringing the total project funding to $15 million to date.

“This project is about providing the best possible information to our warfighters in a manner that is easy to access and act upon, making them more effective on the battlefield and keeping them safe,” Hoeven said.

“North Dakota has long played a tremendous role in our nation’s defense. Now, we are leveraging our growing expertise in technology development, both at our research universities like UND and in the private sector, to greatly expand and diversify the ways our state contributes to the security of our nation.”

President Armacost agreed. “We are proud to have this partnership with ARA and the support of Sen. Hoeven,” UND’s president said. “This work in augmented reality is an important part of our research contributions to national security. Projects like this show UND’s commitment to being a national leader in the development of autonomy, whether on the ground, in the air, or in space.”

The project is especially notable because it’s a cooperative effort between several departments at UND, said Mark Askelson, executive director of the University’s Research Institute for Autonomous Systems, or RIAS. These include RIAS, Aerospace, Mechanical Engineering, the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Psychology.

“For example, we want to give the vehicle operators ‘environmental intelligence,’ including but not limited to, the weather,” Askelson said.

“We have a lot of excellence in Atmospheric Sciences at the Odegard School for Aerospace Sciences, so it’s a great fit for us.”

Likewise, project developers are taking great care to make sure their display isn’t a safety hazard, Askelson said. Cluttering up a windshield with too much projected information almost certainly would distract the driver.

So, UND psychologists and others are conducting “human factors” research, figuring out how to project only a very few feeds of the most useful information.

“One of the great things about this University is that we have a lot of people with a lot of capabilities,” Askelson said.

“And this project brings them all together. It involves three of our major colleges: Engineering, Arts & Sciences and Aerospace, for example. To be able to reach out and work with people who have all of these skill sets, and to watch them work together on a project that will benefit America’s servicemembers – well, it’s just a real privilege.”

Will Goodman, vice president of government relations at Applied Research Associates of Albuquerque, N.M., speaks at a press conference at UND announcing a research project’s new phase. ARA is partnering with UND on the project, which is developing an augmented-reality system for Army ground vehicles. Photo by David Dodds/UND Today.

1,600 employee-owners

Applied Research Associates, UND’s partner on the project, is a 100% employee-owned research and engineering company that’s headquartered in Albuquerque, N.M. And most of the 1,600 employee-owners are doctoral- and master’s-degree-level scientists and engineers, said Will Goodman, ARA’s vice president of government relations, at the press conference.

One of ARA’s products is the ARC4 RECON, an advanced, helmet-mounted AR technology that delivers heads-up tactical information, day or night. Videos of some of the ARC4’s capabilities can be seen here.

The current project will deliver similar information to ground-vehicle operators, Goodman said.

“The system that we’re looking at is the next generation of tactical intelligence on the battlefield,” he said.

“And with our partners here at UND, we’re able to incorporate cutting-edge features such as human factors research, overhead feeds from UAS systems and weather modeling for hazard avoidance.

“All of these things – it’s incredible work, and it’s happening right here in Grand Forks,” Goodman said. “It’s leaps and bounds ahead of what’s going on anywhere else.”

ARA is grateful to be a partner to the University, and to be able to participate in bringing something “truly of tremendous and live-saving value to our soldiers on the battlefield,” Goodman said.

“The point of all of this is to make sure that this research, which is federally funded, finds a home in an applied system that somebody downrange gets to use to do their job well and be better protected. So thank you very much.”