FORT BENNING, Ga. — The team in charge of restoring overmatch to the close-combat force repurposed emerging technologies to combat COVID-19 last week using a prototype of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, known as IVAS.
“A week ago, we were talking about the potential impacts of the pandemic on the IVAS program. Today we’re talking about the potential impacts of IVAS on the pandemic,” said Brig. Gen. Dave Hodne, the director of the Army Future Command’s Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team at Fort Benning, where he also serves as the Infantry School commandant.
The system is being employed now to rapidly assess the temperature of hundreds of Soldiers each day as they prepare for training on an installation that hosts thousands of Soldiers in dozens of courses, including basic training and Ranger School.
As the commandant of the Infantry School, Hodne is responsible for these Soldiers and eager to use IVAS to mitigate training delays where possible and to stem the spread of the virus when detected.
“That’s the genius of this system; we can use this technology today to fight the virus, even as we shape it into the combat system our Soldiers need tomorrow. This shows the extensibility of the IVAS technology and the system,” said Brig Gen Tony Potts, the Program Executive Officer Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where next-generation capabilities are being developed for the purpose of restoring the overmatch to U.S. forces.
“While we’re maintaining momentum in pursuit of modernization, we have to keep in mind that readiness today is critical,” he said.
IVAS is the Soldier Lethality CFT’s signature modernization effort, a high-speed goggle designed by Microsoft using the Microsoft HoloLens with a “heads up display” that will improve Soldiers’ situational awareness without requiring them to take their eyes off the objective. Last week, Hodne announced the schedule remains on track to start fielding it to troops in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2021, after supply-chain issues wrought by COVID-19 forced the IVAS team to shift various design and study phases to the left and right.
About that same time last week, Tom Bowman was watching news about the pandemic at home in Virginia, when it occurred to him that the digital thermal sensors in IVAS could be adapted to detect a fever.
Bowman is the director of IVAS Science & Technology Special Project Office with the C5ISR’s Night Vision Laboratory at Fort Belvoir. C5ISR is one of the organizations that comprise the Army modernization enterprise and a partner to the Microsoft team that agreed to “tweak” software into an application that would expand the capability of the system.
Four days later, the first IVAS fever detection devices were shipped to Fort Benning, where Bowman and his team of experts trained 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment Soldiers to use them.
The goggles they use are familiar to those who followed the evolution of the IVAS prototypes through Soldier Touch Point 2 last fall, a high-visibility event at Fort Pickett, Virginia, that demonstrated the utility and acceptability of the goggle in various combat operational environments.
The STP 2 prototypes are not ruggedized military form factor, as the final version will be, so they cannot be used outdoors, where temperatures continually fluctuate, for the purpose of fever detection just yet, Bowman said. Operations were conducted indoors on main post using commercial thermal reference sources to calibrate the imager to room temperature, a necessary condition for establishing baseline conditions for comparison.
Day after day and through the weekend, Soldiers in groups of more than 200 and 300 filed through the processing center, where they paused for five seconds facing a Soldier wearing an IVAS goggle with sensors that detect the forehead and inner eye temperature. The Soldier’s temperature registered in the operator’s see-through, heads-up display, a method that proves more economical and sanitary than the use of traditional thermometers.
Anyone who registered a fever was moved to a medical station on site for evaluation. After every tenth Soldier, the system was recalibrated to maintain accuracy, a process that takes mere seconds. From start to finish, a group of roughly 300 Soldiers was processed and cleared in less than 30 minutes.
“We’ve always planned for an agile software system and a digital platform that can be upgraded and adapted to use against emerging threats in the future. No one anticipated the next threat to emerge would be a virus, but that’s the enemy we face today,” said Bowman, who – to use a football analogy – brought a special team to Fort Benning to tackle the pandemic while the rest of the team drives on with design and testing.
The fever detection operation, which proved successful from day one, underscores the value of the IVAS rapid development, which centers on an iterative design-test-refine process, Potts said. The program is a middle tier acquisition rapid prototyping effort, which requires the program to yield residual capabilities like the sensors that enabled the fever detection technology, which can be employed, for instance, on Family of Weapon Sights – Individual.
By Bridgett Siter, Soldier Lethality CFT