Eyes in the Dark
Eyes in the Dark: Navy Dive
Helmet Display Emerges as Game-Changer
By Amaani Lyle DoD News, Defense
Panama City, Florida — (DOD
News) — July 27, 2016 — The once-ribbing term “four-eyes” now secures a
coolness factor, thanks to a team of Navy engineers who have developed a
high-resolution, see-through, heads-up display embedded directly inside a KM-37
Navy dive helmet to keep its users safer, more efficient and more effective
A Marine wears a prototype dive helmet with the Diver
Augmented Vision Display
Project Manager Dennis Gallagher, an engineer with the underwater systems
development and acquisitions branch special optics lab, said he and his team
have developed a next generation, futuristic, 3D-printed prototype that might
even evoke the envy of Ironman.
Meet DAVD, also known as the Divers Augmented Vision Display. Years in the
making, a plastic waveguide houses binocular-style “smart glasses,” featuring a
tiny micro-display smaller than a postage stamp and ready to receive a variety
of critical topside data that assists divers working in even the most austere
and low-visibility underwater conditions.
Once a mere concept based on a need, DAVD has matured into an
operational and testable prototype that Gallagher said is so far earning rave
reviews from the Navy, joint and allied forces’ dive communities.
“Unlike recreational diving, where you’re in the Bahamas [and]
it’s crystal clear and it’s beautiful, military diving is almost [always] dark,
pitch-black water. You’re working in diving in salvage, ship husbandry -- very
dangerous, difficult environments,” Gallagher said. “So you can’t see
life-support information, critical sensor data that you need. Your gauges are
almost useless down there, because you cannot see them in front of your face.”
Navy diver Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Fenn enters the water for training in
Navy diver Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Fenn enters the
water for training in murky water at the Naval Support Activity Panama City in
Panama City, Fla., July 14, 2016. Fenn is assigned to the Naval Surface Warfare
Center Panama City Division dive locker. DoD photo by EJ Hersom
The technology, Gallagher said, is a culmination of display capabilities, much
of which the Air Force has used for years to send and receive information.
An Augmented Reality
“What we can send on that heads-up display is literally
anything the topside dive supervisor has on the computer,” Gallagher said of the
point-of-view, video game-style device. “It can be sonar or sector scan that’s a
top view of what the salvage area looks like. We can even send a 3-D augmented
reality overlay on an area.”
The diver, he added, can see the wreck, the object of
interest, even him or herself navigating to the target area. The system works
through voice commands, which can carry a diver’s request for text messages,
drawings, pictures, and video placed anywhere on the screen. He or she can also
turn the entire system off and return to see-through mode if necessary.
Gallagher noted that DAVD even has favorable outreach beyond
the military, including commercial and first-responder dive realms, including
“[The police divers] had people who lost their lives -- they
couldn’t see their gas pressure, because [the visibility] was so bad when they
were trying to do a body recovery,” Gallagher said. “So this kind of thing has
tremendous outreaching capability.”
How It’s Made
How the DAVD is made seems to have just as storied a journey
as what it can already help divers achieve. Gallagher said he knew the lab would
need to bring forth the technology as quickly and inexpensively as possible,
which prompted concept development through 3-D models. “We can take our
mechanical engineering models, and electrical engineering models, and literally
email it across the base to the 3-D printing shop -- they make the versions of
them there -- then we can do the final assembly, put it in the lab and start
testing it at lightning speed for very little money.”
A light illuminates a prototype dive helmet with the Diver Augmented Vision
Chuck Self, head of the Navy Surface Warfare Center Panama City rapid
prototyping shop, said making something from nothing is all in day’s work, as he
and his team are the first stop for designers with prototypes and initial
Self’s work puts 3-D printed models in hands of engineers,
enabling them to quickly conduct design reviews, find flaws in parts, make
revisions, and get a product to market much faster. Additionally, the
prototyping shop partners with all other warfare centers in a 3-D printing, or
additive manufacturing, working group, Self explained.
“This working group’s main goal is to help implement additive
manufacturing to the Navy in a smart, safe, effective way,” Self said, adding
that qualification, certification, and workforce development are all major
factors for the Navy to approve additive manufacturing as an acceptable process.
“The goal is to approve a process so that it doesn’t have to be a case-by-case
situation and we can certify the part to go for fleet use,” he said.
Additive manufacturing uses state-of-the-art technology to
instruct computer-controlled machines to print parts in a layered format, Self
said. “We have nothing to start with, and we add material layer by layer until
we’ve achieved that final part,” he added.
The technology is not as new as much of the public might
think. Self said the Panama City lab has been leveraging 3-D printing for close
to 20 years, and the technology originated about 25 years ago. “During that
time, you’ve seen a massive maturation of the process,” Self said.
Putting DAVD to Use
Perhaps the rubber really meets the road when the concept
ripens to practical use in the fleet.
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Lambertsen, Navy Diving
and Salvage Training Center dive medical technician, said he and his colleagues
look forward to wider use of DAVD.
“The heads-up display where you can find your compass and
heading would aid any diver and would help make diving efficient, keeping your
bottom time at a minimum,” Lambertsen said. “It could help not only a lost diver
find himself, but would help his dive buddy find a lost diver and ultimately
He also shared his personal stake in the technology and
diving in general.
“I dive because I love it,” Lambertsen said. “I’m lucky
enough to have been here at the Navy Surface Warfare Center to see some of the
best and newest diving technology come through and have the opportunity to be
part of some of the testing and development for it.”
A prototype dive helmet with the DAVD, left, provides a comparison view to an unmodified dive helmet
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Steven Starner, also a military diver and DAVD
prototype user, recalled a mission in 2014 in which the priority was to recover
a piece of history from the Civil War vessel CSS Georgia. Starner and his team
faced low visibility, high currents and limited time to get the job done.
“On the bottom of the Savannah River, everything was done by
feel. I was able to see maybe 6 to 8 inches in front of my face, and anything
more than that was nothing but a blur and darkness,” Starner recalled. “DAVD
would’ve helped to decrease the amount of time it took to complete this
Today, DAVD testing will continue with ongoing enhancements,
capabilities and interoperability, progress made possible by the creative
freedom the Navy allows, Gallagher said. But he also stressed that creative
freedom isn’t his only motivation in going to work each day. He recalled
briefing about one of his earliest diver display systems to a group of service
members, newly returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. He remembered how eager they
were to use the technology.
Putting it all into perspective, he went back to his office
“I realized that I complained that the coffee was cold at the
mess and these guys have been out doing these kinds of things, trying to get
back to their families,” Gallagher said. “That changed my entire outlook –
whatever I do could literally make a difference in that person in theater
getting back, … because the next crazy idea we have could do something like that.
I’ll stay and work the weekend for that one.”
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)
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