UCF testing way to communicate to soldiers on battlefield through vibrations

January 07, 2004

ORLANDO, Jan. 7, 2004 -- University of Central Florida researchers are testing whether the military could alert soldiers to battlefield threats through vibrations and rely less on other, more distracting communications.

In a study funded by the U.S. Department of Defense's central research-and-development organization, UCF researchers are evaluating ways to send coded signals through miniature devices that vibrate. Their work could lead to a new method of communication for soldiers who rely on verbal messages and visual displays mounted in their helmets.

"Clearly, there's a concern for our soldiers, allied soldiers and civilians," said Richard Gilson, a psychology professor who is the lead researcher on the project. "We want to find out if there's a better way to convey information about threats. I seriously think we can save some lives with this."

Communicating with soldiers presents many challenges for the military. Soldiers must clearly understand information about threats, because miscommunications can leave them vulnerable to attacks and wrong responses can be deadly.

Gilson said the military can best convey information without lights and sounds that could alert the enemy to soldiers' locations. Helmet-mounted displays block some of the soldiers' views of their surroundings. And soldiers can be so overwhelmed with visual and auditory information that they aren't paying enough attention to the sights and sounds around them, Gilson said.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, provided $470,000 for the project in September. Initial research will test how well UCF students understand information relayed through vibrating sensors on their bodies compared with information they hear through speakers in the room.

The UCF researchers will focus on whether coded vibrations are a more effective way to relay information, not on specific details such as what type of device should be used to send them or where the sensors should be placed on the soldiers' bodies, Gilson said.

If the research shows communication through vibrations to be more effective, then the military would investigate how to best put it into practice. It's possible that the vibrations could be relayed through devices built into belts, inside helmets or even in mouthpieces, Gilson said. The new system could be used along with the current methods of communication.

Future phases of UCF's research could get more specific, as researchers would try to find out how much detail they could communicate through patterns of vibrations.

Psychology professors Mustapha Mouloua and Peter Hancock are helping Gilson with the research, as are post-doctoral fellows James Szalma and Tal Oron-Gilad. Graduate students Chris Brill, Joshua Downs, Cleve Mortimer and Peter Terrence also are helping to conduct the research.
Richard Gilson, 407-823-2755 (work), 407-365-1499 (home), gilson@pegasus.cc.ucf.edu

University of Central Florida

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