FORT BELVOIR, Va. (June 3, 2021) — In an effort to give Soldiers an edge in an ever-changing operational environment, Army Futures Command (AFC) conducted week-long perception testing for new equipment and programs at its Fort Belvoir laboratory.
Soldiers from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia, traveled to the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center — a component of AFC’s Combat Capabilities Development Command — to provide feedback on new technology, giving scientists, engineers and psychologists vital information about the efficacy and usability of the systems they’re developing.
The C5ISR Center is the DoD leader in the research and development of night vision and electro-optics technologies.
“We’re trying to get the best sensors into the hands of Soldiers to perform their missions in day and night-time environments,” said Dr. Todd Du Bosq, C5ISR Center Field and Measurement Support branch chief.
To gauge predictions of performance on the technology in development, experts at the Center gather data during quarterly testing cycles, through qualitative and quantitative means.
“Not only will we get quantitative information, where Soldiers’ tests are scored, but we get qualitative information through surveys and interviews, which gives us an idea of what was unclear to participants, and what could be changed or improved upon,” said Du Bosq.
During testing, Soldiers use and provide feedback on several systems, explained Dr. John Graybeal, lead engineering psychologist for the Center’s Human Perception Laboratory.
“The C5ISR Center is interested in researching anything to do with human use and human performance with electro-optical and infrared sensors,” Graybeal said. “We want to be building exactly what Soldiers need, and what they want. The best way to do that is to simply ask them.”
Graybeal and his team’s specialized training enables them to design experiments and tests that collect accurate and usable data.
“This type of training and expertise is essential. It allows us to ask the right survey and interview questions, and to ask them in a way that corresponds with scientific best practices. When we get the data back, we know it’s both accurate and also immediately actionable,” he said.
The same is true with the objective Soldier data.
“Our training allows us to think about things that other people designing experiments may neglect. One example is fatigue. There’s a lot of research demonstrating that if you ask people to sustain their attention on a single task for a long period of time, they can’t do it. Eventually their performance starts to break down. We very judiciously think about how many images we’re showing the Soldiers to make sure that fatigue doesn’t bias our results downwards,” explained Graybeal.
This type of data collection has resulted in system improvements, including testing that revealed a critical piece of Soldier feedback regarding the Advanced Targeting and Lethality Aided System (ATLAS).
“ATLAS uses an aided target recognition system that scans a field of regard, so the Soldier is assisted by an artificial intelligence system that is also searching the scene,” said Graybeal. “When the system thinks it detects a potential target, it takes a picture of it and sends it to the Soldier. When we created the virtual prototype of this system and tested it, one of the things the Soldiers talked about was what happened when they selected a picture of a potential threat. When a picture is selected, the system moves the Soldier’s sensor feed to interrogate the potential target. While this should accelerate target engagements, one of the problems Soldiers encountered was they could easily lose track of where they were scanning previously.”
As a direct result of talking with the Soldiers, the Center developed a solution to return the viewer back to their previous scanning position after a potential target is reviewed.
“We had Soldiers work with that function extensively in this testing iteration, and collected feedback to see if it was doing what they needed it to do,” said Graybeal.
This is one of the benefits of doing laboratory testing – control and replicability, as well as the variety of imagery that you can capture, he added.
“Field tests can be logistically challenging because the sample size of Soldier participants is usually small, the tests require a lot of time, and they don’t always provide consistency,” he said. “You also may not know exactly what each person is seeing. For example, the perception task can completely change going from one Soldier to the next as clouds move across the sky, or as other environmental conditions change, during the test. With laboratory testing, you capture a photo in the field and can show it to lots of Soldiers and you know exactly what they’re seeing, every single time.”
In addition to providing feedback on ATLAS, Soldiers gave feedback on different camouflage patterns and Night Vision Goggle Next (NVG Next).
“To test NVG Next, the Soldiers were placed in a virtual environment where their job was to search scenes, to find people, and to decide whether each person was holding a weapon. Unlike with a static image, Soldiers could look around the scene with natural head movements, and we could have them search those scenes in a more realistic fashion. What we want to get from that simulation is feedback on whether we are building the prototype correctly, whether the simulation looks realistic, and whether we can identify any problems that may affect the system later on.”
The C5ISR Center is focused on being able to predict the performance of the different sensors in development. The simulated perception testing done by the Center allows them to better predict that performance at an earlier stage and make adjustments that save the Army time and money and help get advanced capabilities into the hands of Soldiers quickly.
The C5ISR Center is the Army’s applied research and advanced technology development center for C5ISR capabilities. As the Army’s primary integrator of C5ISR technologies and systems, the center develops and matures capabilities that support all six Army modernization priorities, enabling information dominance and tactical overmatch for the joint warfighter.
The C5ISR Center is an element of U.S. Army DEVCOM. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, DEVCOM leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation’s wars and come home safely. DEVCOM is an AFC major subordinate command.