Dogs of War: A Whole New Meaning to “Seeing Eye Dog”

Dogs have had a long service history with the US military. In fact, canines have served aside armies since the early civilization, and were at present with the Ancient Egyptian, Romans, and Greeks. Many may not know that a dog named Cairo was a member of the SEAL team that performed the raid on Osama bin Laden, and Cairo’s responsibility, successfully executed, was to secure the perimeter of the Abbottabad compound.
So it may come as less of surprise, then, that a company called Command Sight has developed canine Augmented Reality (AR) goggles for the US Army. Technology continues to advance at a rapid pace. Is it right, though, to send a dog into combat, with or without goggles?

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In 2017, Dr. A.J. Peper started Command Sight, a small business based in Seattle, to bridge human and animal communication. Through conversations with current and former military operators he identified a need to increase the efficacy of communication between canine and handler. As a result, Command Sight built the first prototype of augmented reality glasses for military working dogs.

Peper said initial feedback from his proof of concept was, “the system could fundamentally change how military canines are deployed in the future.”

The augmented reality goggles are specially designed to fit each dog with a visual indictor that allows the dog to be directed to a specific spot and react to the visual cue in the goggles. The handler can see everything the dog sees to provide it commands through the glasses.

“Augmented reality works differently for dogs than for humans,” said Dr. Stephen Lee, an ARO senior scientist. “AR will be used to provide dogs with commands and cues; it’s not for the dog to interact with it like a human does. This new technology offers us a critical tool to better communicate with military working dogs.”

The initial prototype is wired, keeping the dog on a leash, but researchers are working to make it wireless in the next phase of development.

“We are still in the beginning research stages of applying this technology to dogs, but the results from our initial research are extremely promising,” Peper said. “Much of the research to date has been conducted with my rottweiler, Mater. His ability to generalize from other training to working through the AR goggles has been incredible. We still have a way to go from a basic science and development perspective before it will be ready for the wear and tear our military dogs will place on the units.”

The basic science research behind this technology focuses on understanding canine vision and cognition as this tool is developed.

“We will be able to probe canine perception and behavior in a new way with this tool,” Lee said.

Currently, military working dogs are commonly directed by hand signals, which require the handler to be within sight of the dog, or by laser pointers, which also required the handler to remain close to the dog and generates a light source, which could be a safety issue.

Audio communication, using a camera and a walkie talkie placed on the dog are also used to direct the canines and allows the handler to be further from the dog, but the verbal commands can lead to confusion for the dog, for example, a dog runs around a set of stairs rather than going up them.

Augmented reality goggles could offer Special Forces dogs and their handlers a new alternative.

“The military working dog community is very excited about the potential of this technology,” Lee said. “This technology really cuts new ground and opens up possibilities that we haven’t considered yet.”

The augmented reality system uses goggles military working dogs have already been wearing for protection in inclement conditions and aerial deployments from Rex Specs. By leveraging a product the dogs are already used to wearing, Peper said it makes the technology adoption easier for both the dogs and the handler.

“Even without the augmented reality, this technology provides one of the best camera systems for military working dogs,” Lee said. “Now, cameras are generally placed on a dog’s back, but by putting the camera in the goggles, the handler can see exactly what the dogs sees and it eliminates the bounce that comes from placing the camera on the dog’s back.”

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