Iowa State University researchers further blurred the line between wartime operations and video games this week when they revealed a "next generation control interface" for military UAVs. The $4.2 million system, currently under development at the university's Virtual Reality Applications Center, will provide ground control UAV stations with views of the drones, the surrounding terrain, and overall battlefield. If the program sees complete success, it will allow a single operator to control multiple UAVs, and monitor each of their on-board instruments, cameras and, naturally, weapons. The system does this using a combination of eye-tracking, voice control and interactive large screen displays—in other words, the kind of rig many uber geeks already use to play an online FPS.VRAC officials have seen early success with the program thanks, in part, to the ass-backwards approach they've taken to remote UAV control:
This approach inverts the typical paradigm for conveying information to UAV jockeys, according to VRAC. Because rather than augmenting the real-time camera picture with sensor generated information, the new interface works more like a virtual operating theater-one that's constantly fed by a myriad array of spatial and temporal information sources.
"We're also developing and measuring the effectiveness of new human interface techniques, which will enable operators to effectively control multiple, semi-autonomous aircraft," said research director Dr. James Oliver. "Already, up to 230 persons can be interfaced to participate in the system simultaneously." Again, that sounds like a kick ass LAN party to me. A deadly LAN party, that is. [CNET]