Research finds unmanned systems help soldiers on battlefield

Research at Ben Gurion University found that having to absorb growing quantities of real-time data does not harm soldiers' attentiveness.

Unmanned systems in the air, on land and at sea, along with tracked robots that enter crevices and buildings to take images in real time for soldiers in the field are filling the contemporary battlefield. The spread of these systems among Western armies will probably gain momentum in the coming years as technology makes possible newer unmanned systems that will lower the cost of combat and save lives.

The development of these unmanned systems also raises new questions about the attention capabilities of combat soldiers on the modern battlefield, who must absorb, analyze, and manage growing quantities of data in real time. A team of researchers at Ben Gurion University of the Negev's human engineering program headed by Dr. Tal Oron-Gilad has for seven years been investigating the contribution and effect of unmanned systems on soldiers in the field.

The in-depth study is for the US Army, which is financing it and monitoring the results. In the study, researchers examined the effectiveness of visual information transmitted to soldiers form unmanned ground vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) during combat in built-up areas. 30 students who serve in the IDF reserves or who previously worked with unmanned systems participated in the study, which monitored and analyzed eye movement. The study examined the men's attentiveness while being simultaneously exposed to video images of an urban battlefield sent from unmanned air and ground vehicles.

The researchers found that visual information obtained from unmanned vehicles had considerable added value for soldiers on the battlefield, belying conventional wisdom that it did not help them. Oron-Gilad said that the results confirmed an earlier study from 2011. "It is sometimes thought that providing a soldier with the maximum information is like giving him the best rifle for carrying out the mission, but that, in this case, information overload is liable to result. We therefore examined the question whether this was information that helped the soldier's orientation in the operating environment. The study's results indicate that, in this case, the information is useful," Oron-Gilad told "Globes".

"However, it should not be concluded that from now on a soldier should receive two kinds of information in every action. That greatly depends on the combat scenario and features, such as combat in a built-up area where there are narrow alleys and moving targets."

The study was recently published in the "Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making". In the two scenarios examined, sorties by UAVs over a dense urban environment were combined with unmanned ground vehicles. Analysis of the pattern of eye movements of the test subjects confirmed the researchers' working assumption that the test subjects preferred to use the two kinds of visual information to carry out their mission.

"The integrated display of the information gave an advantage in the percentage of discovery, reduction of the work load, and reduction in the number of false alerts, without overloading the test subjects. We can conclude that the pictures from the unmanned systems sent to the infantrymen provided additional support for the mission beyond aerial photographs. That said, the contribution of the unmanned ground vehicles diminished in very densely built-up areas where the angle of vision was limited," said Oron-Gilad.

The findings of the new study add to previous research in unmanned systems by Oron-Gilad for the US Army. Analysis of the new findings will likely be included in the updated combat doctrine for urban warfare.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on February 12, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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