Date: Nov. 13, 1996
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Advanced Technology for Soldiers Requires Extensive Research
Before Being Used on the Battlefield
WASHINGTON -- A helmet-mounted display unit that the Army is proposing for soldiers on the battlefield should undergo extensive laboratory testing and research with actual users before decisions are made about how and when the equipment will be adopted, says a new report* from a panel of the National Research Council.
The proposed display is designed to transmit information to soldiers through a small screen that flips down over one eye. Although the technology is promising, the display could impair a soldier's ability to perform crucial tasks, the panel said. The black-and-white, low-resolution display may result in eyestrain, fatigue, poor visual perception, and loss of equilibrium. Soldier performance using other technologies, such as hand-held and helmet-mounted binocular displays, should be compared with the proposed version, the panel said.
"The concept has the potential to increase the amount and accuracy of information a soldier receives," said panel chair William Blackwood, vice president with Hay Management Consultants, Arlington, Va. "However, the benefits will be achieved only if the soldier can successfully absorb, interpret, and act upon the various kinds of information being presented. Little is known about how this type of display equipment will affect the performance of individual soldiers."
The helmet unit is part of the Army's "21st Century Land Warrior System," an ensemble of protective garments, armaments, and information processing tools designed to give soldiers almost instantaneous data on troop movements, target location, and other observations. Recent combat situations have shown that providing more information directly to individual soldiers can improve their chances for survival and help them perform their missions with fewer tactical mishaps.
Using the new technology, soldiers would interpret, create, and respond to messages transmitted through the flip-down display. For example, the system can blend weapon sights into a display that would allow a soldier to "see" a target around a corner or aim and shoot with the rifle held overhead. In daylight, the display would be opaque, similar to a TV screen. At night, the display unit would be combined with a night vision system; when switched on, the display would appear in the middle of a soldier's field of view. Soldiers would see the battlefield, detect and engage targets, and perform all other tasks by looking at the display.
If digital data displays are found to partially block a soldier's view of the surrounding environment, then hand-held or wrist-mounted technology should be examined as an alternative, the panel said. Even if problems of vision and perception are resolved, the display unit may shift soldiers' attention away from the battlefield, making them less aware of their location, the presence of enemies, and the terrain. These factors should be included in research.
The Army's future personnel training and selection requirements also should be considered, the panel noted. The Army has developed operating procedures to enable infantry squads to quickly identify situations and react appropriately. However, the amount of information the proposed system could provide may be many times greater than that currently used by infantry soldiers, who have varying educational backgrounds and abilities. Research should examine individual soldier differences such as short-term memory limits for processing information; the impact of the system on soldier movement, target accuracy, and speed; and how heat, cold, and noise in the battlefield could affect the display.
The study was funded by the U.S. Army Natick Research, Development, and Engineering Center. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, non-profit institution that provides independent advice on science and technology issues under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.
Read the full text of <Tactical Display for Soldiers: Human Factors Considerations> for free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web site or at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).
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NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Division on Education, Labor, and Human Performance
Panel on Human Factors in the Design of
Tactical Display Systems for the Individual Soldier
William O. Blackwood (chair)
Hay Management Consultants
Timothy R. Anderson
Air Force Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory
Wright Patterson Air Force Base
C. Thomas Bennett
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
University of California
John R. Corson
Chief Executive Officer
Integrated Visual Learning
Newport News, Va.
Mica R. Endsley
Visiting Associate Professor
Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and
Texas Tech University
Peter A. Hancock
Human Factors Research Laboratory
University of Minnesota
Julian Hochberg *
Centennial Professor Emeritus of Psychology
New York City
James E. Hoffman
Professor of Psychology
University of Delaware
Ronald V. Kruk
Collaborative Research and Development Programs
CAE Electronics Ltd.
St. Laurent, Quebec, Canada
RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF
Anne S. Mavor
(*) Member, National Academy of Sciences