Navy divers take a dip into smart glass technology

The Divers Augmented Vision Display, or DAVD, provides divers with a heads-up display to help navigate deep-sea missions. (Department of Defense)

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For most of Dennis Gallagher’s career at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, he has heard stories from Navy divers about the horrible visibility during their missions. Once, a diver told him about going down to retrieve an item, only to pick up the correct one, move it away and accidentally take an unrelated item back to the surface.

After years of hearing about the challenges the murky waters present, Gallagher and other Navy researchers are turning to smart glasses to provide the solution. Building on years of similar research and technology, Navy researchers are equipping diving helmets with these glasses to provide divers unprecedented visual guidance and support, even hundreds of feet underwater.

“They said, ‘This, literally, is a game changer for our life,’” Gallagher, the project’s manager, told FedScoop. “’Right now, I’m down there with my tools, I can’t see four, five inches in front of me – [the mission info] all has to be in my head.’”

The Divers Augmented Vision Display, or DAVD, places the smart glass directly inside a helmet, giving divers access to a transparent heads-up display that can show them extra information, such as where they are or what they need to do. Before, divers had to depend on voice communications for help, but with DAVD, Navy officials can send pictures or measurements to show divers exactly what they need for a mission.

“The face mask part itself could become the display,” he said. “It’s kind of like Iron Man or Star Trek.”

Imagine a diver is looking for the black box from a plane crash, Gallagher said. Instead of being forced to navigate alone, Mission leaders can send the divers schematics or maps of the plane as they search the wreck. An official can even send text messages, hand-drawn notes and sonar imaging to give the divers added information.

And what if they need to perform a difficult underwater repair? The diver can also watch a video on repair constructions through the glasses as they work underwater, Gallagher said.

“This is a need that has existed within the diving community really ever since the beginning of diving,” he said.

Navy researchers will test and tweak the helmet in lab research and simulations before the end of the year, and hope to start official field tests sometime in 2017.

DAVD-helmet
In the ’60s, Navy divers tried to overcome poor visibility by putting a military aircraft display on the outside of their helmets. (Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division)

Still, the idea of heads-up displays for divers has been around since the 1960s, Gallagher said. The Navy has an old, black-and-white picture of a diver in scuba gear, but with a military aircraft display placed right in front of his helmet. Engineers even experimented with attaching full screens to the outside of diving gear.

In the ’90s, Gallagher himself started toying with the idea. One day while experimenting in his office, he ripped a viewfinder off a camcorder and attached it to the inside of a helmet. His jury-rigged project was a success — divers loved the visibility it added, and he continued to work on similar technology.

Then, three or four years ago, Gallagher heard about smart glasses and knew they could be an affordable and dependable option for visibility that would fit perfectly in the helmet.

To keep costs down, the lab 3-D prints the prototypes. An engineer can create designs or components, then “email it literally across the base” for creation, he said.

So far, Navy divers have been ecstatic about DAVD’s functionality and possibilities.

“There’s nothing better than the diver coming out of the water, giving you those two thumbs up and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, how quickly can we get this?’” Gallagher said.

Contact the reporter on this story via email: Jeremy.Snow@FedScoop.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyM_Snow. Sign up for the Daily Scoop — all the federal IT news you need in your inbox every morning — here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on

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3D Printing, emerging technology, Tech, Wearable tech
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