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Vision Enhancement for the Dismounted Warrior


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Human Systems 

OBJECTIVE: The objective of this SBIR effort is to research and develop the best means by which to enhance natural vision through integration of image enhancement capability into a protective eyewear platform (spectacle and/or goggle, with or without integrated ear protection) for Soldiers and Marines. The goal is to enhance natural eyesight to aid in visual detection, identification, and acquisition of targets, friendlies, and other items of interest that would otherwise be obscured or difficult to see in military relevant environments with the unaided eye. Technologies integrated into the eyewear platform must be such that traditional combat eye protection performance characteristics (to include ballistic fragmentation eye protection, UV protection, ANSI Z87.1 compliance, etc.) and situational awareness are preserved, and without increasing overall cognitive load or producing adverse trade-offs for other aspects of visual perception and attention. Solutions shall enhance natural vision through the lens using supplementary information, such as non-visible light (ultraviolet, near infrared, infrared, etc.), sound, enhanced image processing, and/or other techniques. Approaches shall not obstruct one’s natural vision, but complement it in an unobtrusive manner. Image enhancement, in a semitransparent form so as not to obscure or otherwise limit one’s natural vision, shall be superimposed in the visual field, enhancing the features of the natural image, or otherwise highlighting objects of interest in the background. Overlays may take advantage of edges, shapes, shadows, colors, textures, patterns, polarization, reflection, emission, and/or other image characteristics. Designs shall take into consideration the pupil location of the individual wearer, as needed, to optimize performance and compatibility with weapon technologies. Designs shall be such that the enhancement capability is available on demand, to include manual activation and deactivation. Hands free activation (such as voice command) is also of interest, but not necessary for the purposes of this effort. In the event of power loss, imaging shall revert to an unaided mode for unobstructed vision. Ultimately, the objective of the effort is to increase lethality and survivability through enhanced vision, and faster target detection and identification times, of persons and items of interest in military environments, without limiting capabilities naturally afforded by unaided vision. 

DESCRIPTION: Eyesight is critical to survivability and lethality in military environments, being essential for general situational awareness, as well as target detection, identification, and tracking. With an increased emphasis on soldier lethality and survivability, enhancing one’s natural vision is a logical approach to improving the ability of individuals to detect and acquire targets of interest, more readily detect location of weapons fire, origins of directed energy, and to more easily discern/counter/evade threats such as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Vision enhancement for the dismounted warrior will augment natural vision through complementary visual or multimodal cues. These cues may be simple or complex in nature, provided that they enhance overall performance, and that any detrimental effects to cognitive load and overall awareness of one’s surrounding are negligible as compared to gains in performance. Currently, Soldiers and Marines rely on a combination of natural vision, vision protection (impact resistant spectacles and goggles), and optical aids (such as scopes, binoculars, image intensifiers, thermal imagers, etc.) to provide individual vision protection and enhancement. Donning and doffing of individual visual aids takes time and are impractical in situations when seconds count. Additionally, visual aids interfere with one’s natural field of view (and therefore situational awareness), particularly with the increased stand-off from the face that occurs when visual aids are used in conjunction with combat eye protection. This effort seeks to overcome these deficiencies for individual operators with innovative ways to combine vision protection and enhancement into a single platform. NOTE: This effort is not intended to duplicate or replace standalone optical aids/sensors/sights, nor necessarily replicate their level of performance; it is intended to improve individual operator performance during times when advanced standalone aids/sensors/sights are not available, not needed, or not practical to use. This effort seeks to develop practical, operationally suitable ways to enhance ones vision and attain a measurable improvement in operational performance. Improvement will be demonstrated by a statistically significant decrease in overall response time to detect, accurately identify, and/or react to persons and items of interest in military environments, particularly those that are otherwise difficult to detect with the unaided eye. Enhancements shall compliment one’s natural vision, and not be distracting or occluding in nature. Should an integrated eye and ear protection platform be leveraged for the research, auditory and other multisensory cues may also be leveraged to the extent feasible/practical. A future point for consideration is the balancing of multisensory (e.g., auditory and visual) cues to minimize cognitive load with respect to any one sensory modality. Vision Enhancement/Lethality/Survivability Measures for Success: - Detection: reduce time to detect persons and items of interest, as compared to unaided vision (as compared to performance with standard fielded U.S. military combat eye protection) - Accuracy (Identification): ability to accurately identify persons and items of interest shall be equal to, or better than, performance with standard fielded U.S. military combat eye protection - Lethality (weapons fire, in multiple positions): ability to accurately sight/fire weapon shall be equal to, or better than, performance with standard fielded U.S. military combat eye protection for moving and stationary targets; lethality may also be demonstrated by improved kill ratio in simulated exercises, as compared to performance with standard fielded U.S. military combat eye protection - Survivability: Shall maintain or increase survivability in simulated exercises, as compared to performance with standard fielded U.S. military combat eye protection - Mission effectiveness: Shall not degrade ability to complete a dismounted mission - Shall be integrated into a protective eyewear platform (in the form of a spectacle and/or a goggle, with or without integrated hearing protection) while preserving existing vision protection/performance capabilities (i.e., be equal to or better than standard fielded U.S. military combat eye protection, per MIL-PRF-32432) As technologies are identified and developed, more specific evaluation criteria will be formed with close involvement of cognitive and human factors scientists. Considerations include: - Ensure natural vision is not degraded in the event of power failure - Ensure performance is reasonably stable in different operating environments (temperatures, lighting conditions, humidity levels, etc.) - Minimize distracting or confusing images that may increase cognitive load and/or decrease situational awareness (such as unwanted reflections, glare, ghost images, erratic flickering, image distortion, occlusion, peripheral narrowing, etc.) - Provide appropriate adjustment of image when lighting conditions change so the image is not too bright or dark for the ambient illuminance level - Ensure any projected image does not alter the signature of the warfighter’s eye or face during day or night operations (i.e., not compromise camouflage/concealment) - Choose solutions that do not disrupt binocular vision, depth perception, sense of balance, etc. - Choose solutions that will not increase the likelihood of trips/falls, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, undue eye strain/fatigue, motion sickness/nausea, and other effects on well-being with prolonged wear - Consider an optional mode for night operations to preserve the dark adapted eye. During all stages of research, consideration shall be given to approaches/technologies that will preserve existing vision protection/performance capabilities (i.e., be equal to or better than standard fielded U.S. military combat eye protection, per MIL-PRF-32432), to include (but not limited to): - Ballistic fragmentation protection - ANSI Z87.1 compliance - Optical quality (such as being free of blurs or distortion) - Ability to use day or night - Accommodate vision correction (currently the Universal Prescription Lens Carrier) - Provide UV protection in all configurations - Field of view - Preserve color vision - Ability to accurately sight/fire a weapon (in multiple positions, to include standing and prone) - Ability to use other optical aids (such as binoculars), if needed - Durability (rough handling, all climates, all weather conditions, to include consideration of temperature, moisture/humidity, and solar radiation exposure) - Retention (properly balanced, and remain in place during rigorous activity) - Modular design/interchangeable lenses - Compatible with helmets, balaclavas, and other headgear The most critical eye safety related requirements to be maintained for military eye protection with integrated vision enhancement capabilities are ballistic fragmentation protection and ANSI Z87.1 compliance. Due to the criticality of vision to mission effectiveness, and the importance of maintaining compliance for safety, it is highly recommended that SBIR contractor(s) include representation from a U.S. based eyewear lens manufacturer and/or U.S. based manufacturer of protective eyewear as part of their research team. This will help ensure critical vision protection and optical quality considerations of the protective eyewear platform are considered early on in the development cycle, helping to ensure the success of future prototype fabrication, test, and eventual transition to production. Potential considerations for the future include interoperability with weapon sights, and 360 degree views. 

PHASE I: Given the stated objective and description, during Phase I, the contractor shall research and develop innovative approaches to vision protection and enhancement. A tradeoff analysis shall be conducted (to include considerations with respect to design complexity, size, weight, degree of vision enhancement provided, degree of eye protection provided, optical quality, fit, comfort, potential negative effects on human performance, power needs, operating time, cost, manufacturability, etc.), to integrate vision enhancement into a protective eyewear platform. A conceptual design shall be developed, followed by fabrication of a representative breadboard to demonstrate the basic integrated vision enhancement concept. For the purposes of Phase I, visually transparent flat plaques/displays may be used for demonstration purposes. Any adverse effects on visual perception, physical wellbeing (such as increased likelihood of motion sickness, nausea, headaches, dizziness, trips/falls, etc.), cognitive load, and natural awareness of one’s surroundings (such as through occluding or distracting imagery) shall be addressed and solutions identified. A sound engineering approach to design and fabrication, with consideration given to future integration with an optically corrected, impact resistant protective eyewear lens, shall be demonstrated. Phase I deliverables shall include monthly reports, end of Phase report, conceptual drawings/designs, and representative breadboard design. Ability to enhance vision and increase lethality, while preserving existing vision protection/performance capabilities (i.e., be equal to or better than standard fielded U.S. military combat eye protection, per MIL-PRF-32432), shall be supported with sound reasoning and substantiating evidence. Target weight of the entire system (including batteries) is 3 ounces or less (with an ultimate goal of 2.5 ounces or less) if a spectacle platform is chosen; and 6.5 ounces or less (with an ultimate goal of 5.5 ounces or less) if a goggle platform is chosen, with weight being reasonably distributed and balanced on the head. Rechargeable solutions are desired with a target operating time of 72 hours before having to be recharged (with an ultimate goal of 216 hours or greater). Size shall be similar in nature to traditional eyewear, with care taken to avoid solutions that will interfere with wearing a helmet, ability to sight and accurately fire weapons, and use of other optical aids when needed. End item cost shall be considered early on. Target cost is $500 or less (with an ultimate goal of $200 or less once in production). 

PHASE II: Based on the stated objective and given description, during Phase II, the contractor shall address in detail the technical design and engineering challenges associated with the technologies chosen in Phase I, optimize these technologies to maximize vision enhancement, and identify key characteristics to design performance. Care shall be taken to ensure designs will be practical for use in military environments, continue to offer the protection afforded by currently fielded military eye protection, and be designed with future manufacturability in mind (to include lenses with complex curvatures), with considerations to these effects documented throughout the design process. Throughout the design process, designs shall be monitored for any negative effects on the well-being of the wearer, and adjusted to mitigate any negative effects. Prototypes shall be fabricated and tested for key performance characteristics and user acceptance. For the purposes of Phase II, designs shall, at a minimum, be demonstrated using curved (cylindrical or complex curvature), visually transparent, optically corrected lenses. Phase II deliverables shall include monthly reports, end of Phase report, developmental drawings, schematics, draft performance requirements, source code and object code, and twelve (12) working prototypes (spectacles and/or goggles). The ability to enhance vision and increase lethality shall be validated through testing The ability to maintain the protection and performance characteristics equal to or better than existing eyewear (as evaluated against the requirements of MIL-PRF-32432), shall be documented and supported through a combination of substantiating evidence and sound reasoning based on technical facts, depending on the maturity level of the working prototype. 

PHASE III: The initial use of this technology will be to integrate vision enhancement capability into combat eye protection for military applications. The technology also lends itself to civilian applications, which vary based on the technologies employed. Law enforcement and other security operations, firefighting, and search and rescue operations, are among the potential applications regardless of the technology of choice. Depending on the techniques employed, and spectral regions of interest, vision enhancement may also be leveraged for quality assurance applications (such as enhanced ability to detect defects, scratches, surface contamination, wear/tear, etc. in parts/materials), and energy efficiency (such as home heat retention). It also has application to environmental, agricultural, and home use to assess vegetation health (such as early detection of plant stress due to disease, drought, and other stresses). 


1: MIL-PRF-32432, Performance Specification: Military Combat Eye Protection System, Revision A, dated November 29, 2017 (see "MIL-PRF-32432A Finalized" at under solicitation W91CRB17-Army-MCEP-QPL-Spectacles)

2:  Authorized Protective Eyewear List (APEL) (see

3:  Summary of ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2015 American National Standard Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices (see

4:  Wareable, Headgear Feature, "The Best Augmented Reality Glasses 2018…", Paul Lamkin, dtd January 20, 2018.

5:  Kiryong Ha, et al. "Towards Wearable Cognitive Assistance." CMU-CS-13-134. School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, December 2013.

KEYWORDS: Vision, Protection, Image, Enhancement, Detection, Augmentation, Display, Multispectral 


Ms. Michelle Markey 

(508) 233-5471 

Brian Kimball 

(508) 233-4375 

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