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Gear projects set to give war fighters edge

Nov. 22, 2012 - 11:10AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 22, 2012 - 11:10AM  |  
A new, hand-held range finder will likely be used by infantrymen to call for fire support, reconnaissancemen to gather intelligence and forward observers to accurately place rounds on hostile targets.
A new, hand-held range finder will likely be used by infantrymen to call for fire support, reconnaissancemen to gather intelligence and forward observers to accurately place rounds on hostile targets. ()

The brainiacs at the Office of Naval Research and the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab are hard at work on their latest and greatest gadgets, gear and unmanned equipment.

The Navy researchers touted their cutting-edge gear at the Science and Technology Partnership Conference and the American Society of Naval Engineers Expo, held in October outside Washington. Meanwhile, Marine Corps Systems Command has awarded contracts on the development of new optics for infantry and artillerymen, and the Warfighting Lab is evaluating an amphibious, ball-like sentry robot.

Some of the inventions will help Marines become more effective war fighters. Others could even save their lives.

Here's a preview of some of the newest creations under development by the Navy and Marine Corps, before they hit the fleet:

Common Laser Range Finder - Integrated Capacity

Benefit to Marines: The device consolidates capabilities found in legacy devices into a streamlined, lightweight package that helps infantrymen gather intelligence or decisively engage enemy forces with accurate indirect fire.

When you will get it: Initial development is underway, with field-user evaluations slated for summer 2015. It will deploy with operating forces beginning in spring 2016.

Developer: The Marine Corps recently awarded contracts to four companies to develop the device over the next 19 months. That includes $1.3 million to Jenoptik Defense Inc., $3.3 million to Raytheon Co., $2.1 million to Oasys Technology LLC and $4.3 million to Elbit Systems of America.

A new, hand-held range finder will likely be used by infantrymen to call for fire support, reconnaissancemen to gather intelligence and forward observers to accurately place rounds on hostile targets.

"The principle function of the CLRF IC System is to assist the operator in determining the location of a target or other object of interest by measuring the distance, direction and vertical angle from the operator to the object," according to performance specifications released to industry by MARCORSYSCOM.

At 3 pounds or less, it will be able to work in daytime, nighttime and poor weather conditions and provide a 10-digit grid location of the target and the device itself. That will help improve safety by providing warning and danger messages when appropriate.

If the user calling for fire support is inside the minimum safe range from the target based on the ordnance being used, and injury or death could result, the device will display a warning message. If a call for fire is danger — close — inside 100 meters — a danger message will be displayed.

The device will be designed, at a minimum, to operate for six hours on each set of batteries, with a cartridge that can accept military CR123 and AA batteries.

MacGyver-bot

Benefit to Marines: Using this software, a robot can use objects to complete tasks.

When you will get it: Researchers said it is too soon to predict when the software will be ready.

Developer: Georgia Tech College of Computing

MacGyver, the TV show character, could use a toothpick and duct tape to get out of any perilous situation. MacGyver, the robot, might also use simple tools — to save a Marine's life.

MacGyver software in development would allow a robot to use pipes, chairs, tables or any other objects to make simple tools like levers or bridges, according to Mike Stilman, lead researcher at Georgia Tech.

The software has been tested on that lab's humanoid robot, Golem Krang, but could someday be loaded onto any humanoid robot, according to Paul Bello, program officer of human and bioengineered systems.

A robot's ability to use tools could help Marine infantrymen in a number of situations, including if they become trapped under heavy rubble. On ships, the system will likely be used to help robots fight fires or wedge doors open in emergencies, Bello said.

Stilman is at the beginning of a three-year contract with ONR, though it is not realistic to expect this system to be ready for operations within three years, Bello said.

The long-term goal for the Navy is to include this capability in a suite of technologies, such as navigation and interaction with humans, to create the ultimate firefighting robot.

Guardbot

Benefit to Marines: The device can patrol installation perimeters or perform reconnaissance, improving force protection at home or abroad.

When you will get it: Uncertain.

Developer: American Unmanned Systems

The Guardbot was demonstrated by American Unmanned Systems aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., in late September 2011 for use as a sentry or observation platform.

The 57-pound robot, about the size of a small beach ball, performed strongly on land and in the water. It is at home on nearly any terrain and is capable of traveling up to up to 7 mph for up to nine hours, according to specifications from the Warfighting Lab.

Developers first designed the robot for NASA as a potential Mars rover but later adapted it for use on Earth. It has since found success as a broadcast camera filming professional soccer matches in Mexico.

An operator can control the robot remotely, or it can roam free in an autonomous mode. The Guardbot uses video and infrared cameras to survey an area. The stabilized cameras are able to stay upright as the ball rolls.

While Guardbot demonstrated potential during tests aboard Quantico, Marine officials have remained tight-lipped about where the project stands.

Fast-Tint Protective Eyewear

Benefit to Marines: Switch between clear and tinted eye protection in less than a second.

When you will get it: This year, if you're a SEAL; additional fielding unknown.

Developer: Crane and AlphaMicron

Fast-Tint Protective Eyewear offers ballistic eye protection with lenses that switch from tinted to clear and back with the flick of a button. It's designed to help SEALs on missions that span a variety of lighting conditions, but the technology could find its way into civilian stores, as well.

A retired SEAL's message to ONR's TechSolutions office sparked the product's development: "As a SEAL in Iraq ... either you wore clear-lens eye protection and squinted and dealt with the bright, sunny-day operations, or you wore dark-lens sunglasses and removed them upon initial entry into dimly lit houses, leaving your eyes unprotected."

The glasses look like regular wrap-around sunglasses but with a slightly beefier frame. One side has a toggle that allows the wearer to click between gray, amber and blue tints and a clear mode. The other side has a battery and a micro-USB port so the glasses can be recharged. Liquid crystal display technology allows the lens to change color.

The glasses can hold a tint for about 40 hours before needing a recharge, said Christine Martincic, a program manager at AlphaMicron, the company behind the tinting technology. That will last a week or two for most users.

AlphaMicron has developed similar fast-tinting products for pilots, skiers and motorcyclists, but this is its first venture into glasses, Martincic said.

LightSpeed B22U binoculars

Benefit to Marines: These binoculars can be used for covert communications, passing data and voice in radio-frequency-denied environments.

When you will get it: Makers say the Navy has expressed an interest, but a contract has not been signed.

Developer: Torrey Pines Logic Inc.

The Navy is interested in these specs because, in addition to functioning as normal binoculars, they measure how far apart ships are during underway replenishments and whether they are moving closer together or farther apart. Information is displayed on a computer into which the binoculars are plugged, according to Russell Purcell, a program manager at Torrey Pines Logic.

They can also be used any time secure communications are needed among surface, air and underwater vessels — anywhere radio frequency is jammed, unavailable or not desired, such as in covert missions, according to Greg Hays, also at Torrey Pines.

"We are continuing to push the Marine science and technology community at ONR, MCWL and [Marine Corps Combat Development Command] to consider LightSpeed in a variety of applications, like convoy communications, unmanned video/control distribution, ship-to-shore, [explosive ordnance disposal] communications, aerostat comms and towers."

Marines have used the B22s in operational scenarios and endorsed their use for covert communications, he said. Marine testers cited the binoculars' ease of use and reliability. Purcell said he expects the project, funded by ONR, to be approved and available for the Navy to purchase by the end of 2012.

Suspended-Load Backpack

Benefit to Marines: The pack is a source of electricity any time and anywhere, and its design reduces impact on joints.

When you will get it: Researchers could not predict. The backpack is being made more rugged for military use.

Developer: Lightning Packs

The Suspended-Load Backpack can generate electricity while you move, and its suspension system reduces the chance of injury.

Your pack load stays in one place, even though you move up and down while running or walking. The load is attached to a separate load plate that goes against your back. While the load plate moves up and down with your body, the load in the pack is separate and stays in place.

The pack includes a generator that captures energy created by movement and stores it in a BB-2590 battery, the most common battery used to power radios, according to Shawn Carmody, the operational testing engineer at Lightning Packs and a former force reconnaissance Marine.

The backpack weighs roughly 4 pounds more than traditional packs when empty, Carmody said. However, Marines and sailors do not need to carry disposable batteries, which can add up to 20 pounds to already heavy packs.

The electricity created can be used to power GPS, radios and anything else that uses a battery. If a Marine or sailor is injured and cannot walk, the backpack can be pumped up and down while on the ground, creating instant electricity that can be used to call for help, according to Carmody.

The backpack is aimed toward special operators and SEALs who may be out on long missions without an opportunity to recharge, Carmody said.

The project is funded by ONR and recently received additional funding from the Army's Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts, which is responsible for researching, developing and fielding soldier support items.

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