‘Copy that, Red Leader’ – Navy lab’s GunnAR helmet brings rapid tech transition to the fleet / by Scott A.

By Patric Petrie, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific Public Affairs, lead staff writer

SAN DIEGO -- It may look like a prop from a Star Wars movie, but this helmet can potentially save lives on the battlefield.

Scientists from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific’s (SSC Pacific) Battlespace Exploitation of Mixed Reality (BEMR) Lab were joined Dec. 13 by members of industry and representatives from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) for a demonstration of the winning idea from ONR’s March 2016 Innovation Jam, which featured active duty Sailors pitching their technological solutions to fleet challenges.

Lt. Robert McClenning’s winning Unified Gunnery System concept is an augmented reality (AR) helmet that would fuse information from a ship’s gunnery liaison officer and weapon system into an easy-to-interpret visual format for the gunner manning a naval gun system. 

McClenning, a training officer aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Gridley (DDG 101) who claimed the top spot and $100,000 in prototyping funds for his idea, said the way this information-sharing and authorization to fire is currently done is via decades-old radios and sound-powered phones that are hard to hear over the din of machine guns and through the required ear protection. His innovative concept, GunnAR, is an AR overlay placed onto helmets manufactured by industry partner, DAQRI, an AR technology company based in Los Angeles, California. SSC Pacific and DAQRI have entered into a collaborative research and development agreement to further explore and develop this technology.

The potential payoff for the Navy with this technology? According to McClenning, GunnAR provides greater situational awareness for the gunner wearing the helmet, and a quicker response time to ward off potential threats. 

SSC Pacific’s innovative and groundbreaking BEMR Lab allows scientists and engineers to prototype virtual reality and augmented reality technologies to generate ideas for low-cost solutions for fleet training and operational challenges.

Heidi Buck, BEMR Lab director, said GunnAR is an example of taking a Sailor's concept (a unified gunnery system) from idea to prototype in a short amount of time with a small amount of funding. 

“By using low-cost commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) virtual reality technology to aid in prototyping the concept, and low-cost COTS augmented reality technology to demonstrate the concept, we've been able to build this capability very quickly -- all the while keeping the Sailors endorsing the idea in the loop,” she said. 

“This demonstration is just the beginning,” Buck continued. “Trident Warrior 2017 (the Navy’s fleet exercise off the Pacific Coast where Sailors and Marines test out new ideas and innovations in a real-world environment) will be held in June 2017 and we'll be demonstrating a more mature capability on USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). Additionally, Waterside Security programs are interested in adapting it to shore facility security problems.”