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  SoldierMod Volume 10 - Jan 2013
Volume 10 Articles

Country flagGoing Dutch On Soldier Research

Adelbert Bronkhorst of the TNO outlines the research body’s past and current work on Dutch soldier modernisation

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The TNO work is fee ding into a number of the Netherland’s infantry and marine programmes. Photo: © DoD.
The TNO work is fee ding into a number of the Netherland’s infantry and marine programmes.
Photo: © DoD.

The TNO has never been far from soldier modernisation in the Netherlands with the not-for profit contract research organisation receiving most of the country’s defence research funding in recent decades.

The TNO’s work on what ultimately became the VOSS programme today began with work on Integrated Head Protection and digital communications over a three year period beginning in 1999 which became the first in a series of short phases of focused research in key capability areas for the dismounted soldier. In 2003, work switched from technology to soldier effectiveness integration, looking more closely at the operational environment and how it fits with the soldier systems areas of CBRN Protection, Camouflage, Force modelling and included a Mock up prototype. From 2007 to 2010, the TNO’s work in the area moved to Operational Use; examining networked operations, operational performance as well as specific dedicated solutions in the area of night vision, load reduction and power.

In 2011, new work was directed by the Netherlands MoD which is due to conclude in 2014. Bronkhorst outlined its scope, “Now we are just starting a couple of new programmes where we have dedicated programme looking at specific issues and problems. One is reducing the load and the other is intelligence support. The common factor in this approach is that we are leading these programmes from a human factors laboratory. That is actually quite remarkable, especially as in the beginning, most of these developments were technology driven.”

“Human factors are crucial in this case because the soldier has to wear the stuff and use the stuff. The soldier is not sitting behind a desk looking at screen. They also have to move, duck and shoot and in the meantime also use all of these systems so human factors design and human centric design are very important. We collaborate closely with the MoD because they provide the domain knowledge. It is also multi-disciplinary. We cannot do everything using only psychologists and human factors experts.”

Integrated Head Protection

Past efforts continue to inform current efforts. One of these has been Integrated Head Protection which includes ballistic protection, goggles, hearing protection, gas mask, communications, night vision and power supply. Bronkhorst said, “In practice systems are not so very well integrated. It is very difficult also, because you have different providers and they have to be prepared to be integrated. In our research we developed designs where everything is integrated as much as possible. Integration is one important guideline and another is modularity.”

The concept demonstrated the ability of a modular system to go from a very light solution - no protection at all to light to light protection including ear to a full protection including maxillofacial. Another features include enhanced hearing via the integration of an array of microphones on the helmet. A solution using rapid prototyping has been developed for research purposes only. Bronkhorst said, “We don’t need the full protection for each type of soldier or mission.”

Addressing the need for effective hearing protection that doesn’t impinge upon situational awareness so that soldier keep the using the protection is emphasised by Bronkhorst, “In practice we see that soldiers often take out their hearing protection just to be able to better hear their environment for their situational awareness.”

Night Vision

In terms of Night Vision, the TNO has worked with Photonis and Thales on the Colour the Insight technology development programme, also funded by the Netherlands MoD. “It is real time fusion and colouring of thermal and image intensifier images and so I have some examples of that in the next slide. It has advantages that you can combine the advantages of both systems, hopefully without introducing a new disadvantage but in principle you can use it to look behind smoke and camouflage.”

Bronkhorst said, “The original aim was to develop a system that can actually be used on a weapon but eventually we didn’t succeed in making a systems that was that small. It became a bit larger but still demonstrated very well what we wanted to do.”

Related to this but not exclusively so is the Scope and Scope Light work, undertaken by the TNO on thermal modelling. The work is highly detailed and includes consideration of material properties, the number of layers even down to body hair, fitness acclimatisation with outputs in outputs presented in term of the skin temperature and core temperature of the person.

Bronkhorst continued, “You can also model how the fitness of the person, the type of task, metabolism and the environment. Of course if you go to a comprehensive model you would want to have other things modelled but that it is not included in this application.” He notes that the Dutch procurement authorities are very satisfied with its output and the Scope tools are being including in new clothing acquisitions.

The TNO’s investigations have also been focused on training with the Virtual Infantry Trainer (VIT) which has been undertaken with industry partner Relion who developed the VIT company trainers. Bronkhorst said, “The military want more simulation but how good are these simulations? Is this the best transfer of training with this simulation? We validated this VIT trainer in which you do your training in a virtual environment which is represented through an HMD.”

The testing used a naive subject in the clearing of a house in low/high threat environment, clearing a complex room with ratings established both by instructors and a self rating.

“The training was replicated exactly with the virtual environment and then we went to evaluation and then we did the evaluation in different conditions and we had them rated.” Bronkhorst said that despite initial expectations, the VIT rated highly, “It scored relatively well. One obvious disadvantage of the VIT system is that for the physical performance for climbing through the window of course it didn’t score so well because the [users] weren’t trained for that but they had opportunity to train more while using the VIT system and with the complex room they had better performance on other aspects. That was the first study indicating that this kind of training where you can just use a gymnasium and the equipment where you can create all kinds of circumstance and different houses that you have to work in that it is really has a high potential.”

Current Developments

The current range of research projects begun within the past two years include a range of topics; Model-based decision support for selecting personal equipment, Intelligent support for the soldier, a Non-powered exoskeleton and Telepresence control of robots.

This first area includes a focus on burden reduction with Bronkhorst outlining the effort’s remit, “There are now more physical injuries because people carry too much weight. We are looking to have a systems approach; how does [equipment] interact with each other not only in terms of weight but in terms of effectiveness, passive and active protection so if you have less weight you can move faster. This is the start of the programme and we hope to come up with tools so that you can better and more intelligently select [equipment], not only on the systems level for procurement but also for the commander on the field deciding which kit to take and how much water to take for instance.”

Social networks are also being examined for military applications by the TNO. Bronkhorst said, “Another project we have just started is intelligence support for the soldier. We are looking there at civil technology and the degree that the military can use social networks; what is your philosophy for sharing information and moving information from one soldier to another? Does everything have to go up the hierarchy and be filtered, checked and go to other colleagues? Or, can you have something more like peer to peer communication? Then you have the disadvantage that this may not be accurate and so how do you filter it. We are now doing a display development and also experiments with subjects to see how this works in an experimental way to balance these factors.”

Work is also underway on a very light, non-powered exoskeleton. Bronkhorst commented, “It is an ambitious project. If it is passive then the advantages are that you don’t have all the weight and you don’t have to bring stuff to power it but then what are the limits, what can you actually do with a passive system and how heavy will they be. It is an exacting and twisting project. “

Finally, there is the Modular “Telepresence Perception Unit” project in which a robot’s movements are slaved to those of the ontroller so that if a user turn their head the robot does too. Bronkhorst explained that anecdotally, users become deeply immersed so that they flinch when something is placed in front of the robot camera.”

Adelbert Bronkhorst was speaking at WBR's Soldier Technology 2012.

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