back to article DARPA calls for 'DUDE' combo infra-nightscope

DARPA, the renowned bulgy-bonced battle-boffinry bureau (apparent motto: "If you can't beat them... well, some sort of murderous killer robot army would seem to be in order") has just issued its latest call for notions. This time, the Pentagon science chiefs want a new and ultra-puissant combo nightsight module. This is …


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  1. Dave Bell

    DARPA are slipping.

    This idea actually makes sense.

    Has somebody given the uber-boffins decaf?

  2. Stuart
    Thumb Up

    Press Black Out

    "When you're a man in black aboard a black helicopter doing black ops using black funds against the black hats, different kinds of black lighting are merely shades of grey."


  3. Frank

    Been Done?

    Didn't the Predator have one of these built into his headset visor? I saw it in a film a few years ago, can't remember the details.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Is this...

    ... even worthy of "boffinry"?

    Take 1 headset. Install on it a series of cameras that see in different wavelengths from long-IR to high UV. Have them take photos 30 times a second. Install SLR camera style front-surface mirror with some sort of a multi-position actuator.

    Set up cameras shutter signals (or digital video equivalent) to be slightly out of sync with each other so that you can capture them sequentially. With IR, UV and visible cameras the reflected light would travel to each camera in sequence: Visible IR UV Visible UV IR [repeat].

    So you've now got 6 cameras, 1 set of 3 for each eye, taking photos of the same scene in different spectra. Feed these into a small computer- maybe a mobile-ITX when they're released to keep this really small- and use some software trickery to overlay each camera over each other and display them on an HMD. Nonvisible spectra would be mapped onto greyscale or a trippy false-colour spectrum.

    There you have it, one headset. Slap on some decent telescopic optics and you could have farsight etc. Better software/more processing power? Full stereovideogrammetic real-time 3D modelling for biometric scanning and identification of combatant's visible armoury.

    Come on, guys- I built a near-IR/visible headset over a weekend when I was 21... Actually, give me a £2million research grant and I'll get back to you within a year with a working model of a head-mounted computer-headset thing ready for combat testing.

  5. Steven Raith


    "Slap on some decent telescopic optics and you could have farsight etc. "

    Sorry, it can't see through walls and track enemies, as such, it's not a FarSight XR20.

    Besides, all that three seperate cameras would mean is three sets of optics to zero in before you can accurately lay down fire - three sets of windage. Useless outside of CQB situations where you can just spray 800RPM over a twenty foot cone.

    What this needs is a single lens that can be aligned at a closed range beforehand, then have the whole weapon, sights and all, just taken off the rack and used - hence why DARPA needs to work on something with a single optical barrel, but with multiple input feeds built in to it to pick up the IR/low light/straight light from one optical setup. Less alignment, no manual switching between straight light-red dot/starlight/IR viewfinders.

    I think. But I have had multiple beers which means I can see in the dark anyway. He says, hoping not to trip on his shoes on the way to bed....

    Steven R

    Alien, becuase after this much beer, I don't think I'm on this planet any more...

  6. Chris Ridley

    Day of the jackal

    These, like the other gunsights, need to have their aiming reticules "boresighted" - that is, accurately aligned with the gun barrel - every time they get attached to a weapon. (Movie scenes where people gaily snick aiming attachments on and off weapons and never bother to zero them on the range are strictly creative licence.)

    At least the Jackal (not that pretender tosser Sanchez) made the attempt to zero his sight on his custom made weapon before striking it down into a crutch for transport.

  7. Ian Michael Gumby

    Clearly the lack of fire arms in the UK have caused this misconception...

    "Then, quite apart from all this, there are ordinary visual aiming scopes often enough. These, like the other gunsights, need to have their aiming reticules "boresighted" - that is, accurately aligned with the gun barrel - every time they get attached to a weapon. (Movie scenes where people gaily snick aiming attachments on and off weapons and never bother to zero them on the range are strictly creative licence.)"

    There exist quick detach scope mounts that do not shift your zero when the scope is removed and then re-attached. Of course depending on your scope, and how much abuse you put the detached scope through, your mileage will vary.

    Its not just movie fiction.

  8. Kanhef

    @ AC

    You're right that a multi-band headset isn't terribly difficult to make. But this is about putting the same system in a gun sight, so you can aim at and shoot people in complete darkness. Making it that compact is much of the challenge.

  9. Craig Foster


    It's not just a headset... the fact the thing has three or four sets of optics and must *still* line up with the actual gun barrel - meaning you spend 4 minutes aligning the scope once, regardless of which mode it's in.

    Some seriously well-aligned prisms rerouting the single scope image through various sensors would make the most sense, but unless is is completely redirected (and not split) the image would be degraded fairly easily...

  10. Tim99 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    @ Stuart

    Obligatory Douglas Adams quotation -

    "Every time you try to operate one of these weird black controls that are labelled in black on a black background, a little black light lights up black to let you know you have done it."

    Hotblack Desiato, Disaster Area, and the totally black ship in "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe"

  11. Adrian

    @Frank - Been done

    And 4 hours later what was on ITV 4 ?

    Wot, no Arnie icon ?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re : Is this...

    Sounds great. Have you tried selling/patenting your ideas? Or is this just another Reg Reader 'Yeah, easy - did it years ago and could do even better." flat comedy routine?

  13. eugene


    Really, Annoymous Coward?

    Do you really want to be lugging around a mobile ITX PC with cables running to your gun and your HMD, while you're trying to be stealthy and run around while maintaining your agility?

    What happens if your power-hungry PC runs out of batteries? If a cable gets damaged in the field? If your cable gets caught in something and pulls you down?

    Do you even want to be wearing a HMD when you're actively running around? What if in the heat of battle, your HMD moves off to the side just a fraction, throwing off your aim, and you end up shooting someone innocent?

    Will you be able to come up with a mil-spec TOUGH device that does everything, and fits on a gun, won't get damaged easily, won't be rendered useless by a damaged cable, etc etc .. for 2 million pounds?

    Maybe that's why you're not designing things for the military. :)

  14. Dave Ball

    @AC - Headset/Gunsight issues

    That's a wonderful comment. Now go back, read the article, and maybe apply your comment to a system that can be attached to a gun, not a headset? Honestly, it's like being on /. sometimes..

    This does actually seem like a fairly sensible idea though, take it away and bring it back when it has a terahertz viewer and built-in IFF!

  15. Kurt Guntheroth

    best title effort ever

    "bulgy-bonced battle-boffinry bureau ", best journalistic title effort to date. I may never recover from my laughing fit.

  16. Chris G
    Black Helicopters


    AC I like your idea, to take it a little further I think it could be that the various cameras if small enough, would form a composite eye similar to a fly's. two of those affixed to the visor on the squaddie's helmet would look pretty cool and save the yanks having to buy mirrored lens sunglasses to avoid eye contact with the freinds they are about to shoot.

  17. Jeffrey Nonken
    Thumb Up

    Channelling Douglas Adams?

    "Every time I push one of these black buttons labelled black on a black background, a black light lights up black to show me what I've done. What is this, some kind of intergalactic hyper-hearse?"

    As you can see, the Radio version is my favorite. :)

    Hey, speaking of Zaphod, did you know he was in Connections? No, really. He's only got one head, and king instead of president. Guess that gig didn't work out.

  18. Paul
    Black Helicopters

    I second that, Sentence of the week me thinks...

    "When you're a man in black aboard a black helicopter doing black ops using black funds against the black hats, different kinds of black lighting are merely shades of grey"

  19. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    re: DARPA are slipping

    So I suppose you'd file the internet under "so crazy that it just might work".

  20. Anonymous Coward

    DUDE as in...

    "Darkness washed over the Dude - darker'n a black steer's tookus on a moonless prairie night. There was no bottom. "

    The Big Lebowski

  21. Anonymous Coward

    my bet

    would be on a standard sensor like in SLR cameras. Most SLRs have filters to block the IR from entering, so would in fact see the visible and IR wavelenths anyway if these were removed. I suspect with a little ($$$ Millions) research one could add photosites for the other wavelengths in the mix too. at the mo, there are 2 green, one red and one blue to make up 4 pixels. Add one IR, one UV and you're well on your way. Canon could probably do this tomorrow too, but the military would almost certainly not ask them to try what with them wanting to add features to civvy cameras and all :)

  22. Jon Tocker

    @ Ian Michael Gumby

    Cheers, I was going to mention the quick-change mounts with no zero-shift.

    Spend some quality time sighting in your weapon with the different sights before you head off to battle and you can just detach one and put on another that is already zeroed for that weapon.

    Admittedly, it can take a whole 4 seconds to change sights and the DARPA boffins may well wish to remove that lag (and the necessity of having to lug around a number of different sights in your kit) by having an integrated system that does the lot (I can certainly see the benefits there) but that's not the issue.

    The issue is the sweeping statement that "Movie scenes where people gaily snick aiming attachments on and off weapons and never bother to zero them on the range are **strictly creative licence**".

    Perhaps a movie should have a short scene wherein you see the marksman putting in some time zeroing one sight, switching to the other and zeroing that as well?

    Personally, my assumption, when watching a movie and the guy (or girl) is a hot-shot sniper/assasin with his/her own specialised easily disassembled/reassembled sniper rifle and several grands' worth of precision optics, is that they invested the (relatively small) sum involved in getting some precision quick-release sight mounts to go with it (actually, I'd also assume that the cast, reach, balance, trigger draw weight etc of the weapon are all set up for that particular shooter as well) and I would presume they've spent a goodly amount of time sighting it in and practising with it. I figure certain things "go with the territory" and need not be spelled out. We frequently don't get to see the sniper handloading his/her cartridges either, but that's "a given" for the serious shooter.

    Frankly I would have expected better from Mr Page who, as resident weaponry correspondant, should be well aware that precise-fitting quick-release sight mounts have been around for ages and that some of them are pretty good.

    I figure that a trained sniper would be able to change a weapon sight in the same amount of time as (or in less time than) a well-rehearsed actor so I don't think the snicking of sights on and off weapons in a movie is particularly inaccurate - even if we don't get to see the sighting-in process or the custom-manufacturing of the weapon and the practising or precision hand-loading of matched cartridges etc etc etc.

    High-tech custom weapon with quick-release sight mount = (so far as I'm concerned) high-tech weapon with non-zero-shift sight mounts and a lot of work in the preparation stages.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    @eugene, AC


    Yup, built an IR / visible spectrum (also, stereo visible, thouch unfortunately not at the same time) headset when I was 21. Wasn't exactly mil-spec, certainly wasn't compact, but that was mainly due to a limited budget of "whatever I've got lying around".

    Principle was the same, though. And it did have a GPS based compass overlay. I had far too much spare time on my hands back then.

    Oh, and no, no patent. Unfortunately it's vastly too expensive a process for me (new house, new car and other gadgets to fund!), and probably doesn't meet the "novelty" requirements.


    A Mobile ITX system is smaller than a business card + 5mm or so thick. It could hardly be classed as merely "luggable". And given its' 3W or so power consumption, power wouldn't exactly be a horrendous problem either- less than a lot of torches/walkie-talkies/phones.

    Also, it was sort of taken as a given that in a military-spec piece of equipment you'd not have wires trailing everywhere- and aside from power if you wanted a decent battery life, there's no reason to have them either.

    The idea of the headset was to make it independant of the gun- you'd still use the iron sights to aim, so getting knocked wouldn't make any difference for that. Don't know the practicalities of this idea, it's probably better to use a gun-mounted scope.

    I guess rather than the HMD (just trying to fit it in with my own experience with that one...) you could have the cross-section as an inverted U shape, with the cameras on one side and the mobile-ITX on the other side.

    I the batteries could go at the side- or on an external pack if you didn't want to bulk the scope out too much. Some fancy optics (maybe even some sort of endoscope style coherent fibre bundle and an optical splitter of some sort?) and you'd be able to have the same image going to all 3 cameras again, with the eyepiece of the scope fitted with a bloody-high-res LCOS/OLED/etc display. 4x eMagin OLEDs arranged in a 2x2 matrix would give a res of 1600x1200, which would be more than enough for the proposed use.

    A by-product of this would be the ability to use the endoscope to see 'round corners.

    You might even want to have a bank of cameras on either side and a stereo pair of endoscopes & centrally-mounted CPU, backup battery, storage + stereo-viewer.

    Oh, and yes I could do it all for rather less than £2M. Well, unless Via miss their price point on the mobie ITX by a couple of million or the manufacturing costs hit ridiculous levels (unlikely).

  24. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    RE: Ian Michael Gumby

    Ian is both right and wrong.

    The modern Picatinny rail mounting system (no, I'm not kidding, that's actually its name!) that is used on the majority of Yank assault weapons is a very precisely engineered series of grooves that look like someone has flattened out a gear cog and laid it out along the receiver top (or side, or underneath the barrel). A corresponding set of teethy grooves on the bottom of the sight (or flashlight module, or IR module, or laser-dot-emitter) exactly match and in theory, if the Picatinny rail has been correctly fitted in the first place, each and every time you mount a sight it should be in exactly the same position.

    BUT, this does NOT mean it will be bore-sighted exactly enough for accurate distance shooting. For closer ranges it will be acceptable (such as deer shooting, usually a 100m exercise beloved of most Yank "experts"), but the British Army take their shooting very seriously, and insist on zeroing even sniper rifles (where the sight hardly ever leaves the weapon) regularly. You'd be surprised how much variance the same rifle can show over two different days in different conditions. Which is why British Army troops regualrly score better than the Septics in NATO shooting competitions. We don't suffer from misconceptions, our troops are just better trained in the basics than the colonials.

  25. Michael
    Black Helicopters

    What about terahertz devices?

    I like the bit about the "bowtie" antenna.... maybe we'll see some more-nattily -dressed swat teams?

  26. Sillyfellow
    Thumb Down

    stupid people

    yes. seems like i have to say this once again.

    oh yes, how very typical. lets use every scientific advancement to invent better ways to kill more people more efficiently.

    lets concentrate the our best minds and valuable resources for the single purpose of killing other people.

    call it what you want, make any excuse or bogus reason. it does not change the fact that killing is killing.

    what a fantastically good idea (sic), as per usual.

    anyone out there understand what i'm telling you?

    is there anyone out there that thinks killing is NOT a good use of our lives and resources?

    just when i start thinking that we may have hope for a better future, i read shit like this, and the responses. oh what fun.

    stupid humans.

  27. Neil Stansbury

    @Dave Ball


    Why should I have to look down the barrel of my weapon to know what I'm aiming at?

    An IR "dot" on the front and rear gun sights would allow the headset to calculate what the weapon would hit without looking down the barrel and overlay a cross hairs into the image.

    Headsets are an obvious choice, especially as it means I get the added benefit of walking around in the dark without having my weapon attached to my nose.

    As per Craig Foster's suggestion a single lens with a prism would probably make sense - though as this EM is all at different wavelengths focusing it would be problematic. Cycling each source rapidly through some digital focusing mechanism and interpolating each frame together might be a solution.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Well, "killing people" lead to the creation of Computers. So if you have a problem with people like DARPA using military funds to create tech that should eventually filter down to you, stop using it.

    You see, the great thing about Military weaponry is that the wider used it is in the Army, the more chance that it'll stop being secret- either someone will use the ideas gained for their own use (e.g. NOS in cars was derived from the RAF's "use of laughing gas to make their planes go faster"so after the war this was put to good use!) or they're just released to the public.

    Other great inventions that owe their existance to war include Rocketry (hence Satellites AND dehydrated ice-cream, two great inventions), CDMA radios (frequency hopping, IIRC development helped by actress Heddy Lamaar), Transistors (push to tougher and smaller kit during WW2), and so on.

    War gives people deep pockets. People with deep pockets want deeper, fuller pockets. So they give some of that funding to cleverer people than them who are employed to research new ways of making war faster- hence costing less and meaning the enemy burns through less of its value, leaving greater spoils of war.

    Also, research organisations meant we got away from using things like Mustard Gas, which is a barbaric weapon.

    Yes, peace would be great. But if everyone burnt their guns, a worldwide knifefight for superiority would ensue. It's just human nature.

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