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A Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic team is developing and refining a hands-free system to protect US military personnel from inadvertently revealing their location via radio frequency (RF) waves.

The prototype, known as SPECTRUM HUNTER, is an RF emission detection and localisation technology that uses an augmented reality (AR) display aimed at increasing troops’ safety.

Combat troops use a wide range of equipment that emits RF waves afloat and on shore, including hand-held radios and cell phones, Wi-Fi, SOS beacons on aircraft and radar antennae on tanks, ships and structures. Emissions from these devices and others can be deadly if they are not deactivated properly during ‘radio silence’ and an adversary detects them.

The military principle, ‘If you’re transmitting, you can be found’ applies,” explained NIWC Atlantic information technology specialist, Jessica Sinclair.

Troops currently use a 10lb handheld tablet and a handheld sensor to detect and locate the source of their own radio waves; the RF source is more narrowly refined by walking and waving a wand (sensor).

The SPECTRUM HUNTER system under development is hands-free, as the user packs a similar, but smaller geolocator receiver in a backpack and wears a headset inside a helmet that allows them to ‘see’ images of RF waves on an augmented reality screen superimposed over heavy sunglasses,” Sinclair noted. “The helmet is fitted with a sunshade so the equipment operates outdoors.”

Users can use verbal commands or hand gestures to make selections and interact with the AR display, to gain additional information about detected RF waves. The heads-up holographic user interface guides users toward the RF emission source without the harmful possibility of distraction from real-world dangers, such as moving people or vehicles.

Our team is initially focusing on detecting handheld radios and will expand the scope later to detect cell phones and other devices,” Sinclair pointed out. “In the future, we plan to modify it to identify RF waves emitting from enemy forces.”

SPECTRUM HUNTER developers demonstrated a prototype of this exploratory technology during the Fight the Naval Force Forward Advanced Naval Technology Exercise East at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, NC, in July. Active duty personnel and representatives from more than 35 government agencies, industry and academia, tested the equipment during realistic military training scenarios and provided feedback on ways to improve and adjust the technology.

The sky is the limit for potential uses for SPECTRUM HUNTER,” said NIWC Atlantic Acting Executive Director, Peter C Reddy. “Augmented reality can enable an operator to more quickly and easily locate the source; this is a paradigm shift toward capabilities of the future.”

Sinclair’s team applied for and obtained a provisional patent and is sharing their its outside the command. They continue networking with potential sponsors and developing multiple use cases to attract a programme office or commercial vendor interested in transitioning the concept to a physical product.

SPECTRUM HUNTER in use during a USN/USMC exercise in July. (Photo: US Navy)

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