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Special Operators’ Holographic Maps

by John Reed on July 29, 2011

It used to be that military tech was far ahead of tech that was routinely available on the civilian market. In many ways, those days have passed. However, that’s not quite the case with this mapping tech.

For the last five years, special operators in Iraq and Afghanistan have been equipped with what at first appear to be flat plastic maps. However, as soon as they want to get to know the details of a village or specific building in that village, the map pops out a 3D hologram of the site, allowing them to completely familiarize themselves with the area and, in some cases, go inside the buildings’ electrical systems.

Called Tactical Digital Holograms, these maps fuse commercially available hologram tech with existing maps and intelligence to provide a 3D image of the battlefield.

From Defense Talk:

“A whole unit can stand around the image to quickly plan ingress/egress routes for a cordon and search mission, determine where their vehicles will be positioned, casualty collection points, indirect fire support, etc. You can also write on it safely with either a grease pencil or dry erase marker,” said Kalphat, a member of the board of directors for the Association for Unmanned Systems Vehicles International.

Detailed images created from dozens of intelligence sources are laser inscribed on special film to make digital holograms. They’re helping military commanders in battle with mission planning, mission rehearsal and human intelligence debriefing. A version of this technology called “channeled holograms” allows commanders to peer at, around, over and even under fixed objects in theater, like tall buildings, raised monuments and vehicles, seeing points of interest four layers deep.

The maps use intel collected from airborne image intelligence collection platforms like the Army’s Constant Hawk and the Marines’ Angel Fire which provide close-up, airborne images of a city to ground forces in near real-time:

The holographic images are durable and can be rolled up or cut to any size. Images are typically produced from Light Detection and Ranging/Buckeye data, which provides a high-resolution source to register data from other sensors, such as Constant Hawk and Angel Fire.

The image is full parallax, meaning no special equipment — like movie-style 3-D eyewear or computer equipment — is needed. Just a single, direct light source — like a light-emitting diode, or LED light, standard-issue flashlight or even the sun — needs to hit the image at a 90-degree angle to illuminate the 3-D effects. And, the images aren’t distorted when viewed under night vision goggles.

The holograms permit simultaneous viewing for up to 20 participants and are interactive, allowing images to be frozen, rotated and zoomed up to the resolution limit of the data.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance_HBomb July 29, 2011 at 10:51 am

I want this for Google Earth.

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justsaying July 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm

This is already available for Google Earth.

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Nathan July 29, 2011 at 10:53 am

This is totally awesome! Wonder if they can integrate GPS, IR, or thermo signatures of realtime events into the hologram remotely. Could have been (in part) what Washington was monitoring during Operation Neptune's Spear.?. Great piece!

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Oblat July 29, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Worse than a map because of all the obscured dead ground.
Are we so far gone that nobody can read a map anymore and need pretty pictures.

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yeaaaa July 29, 2011 at 12:54 pm

i think you missed the point.

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Stormcharger July 29, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Hey great point. But, one, could you point to the part of the article that states that this technology is replacing map skills? And, two, show me the non-3D map that shows the detail available in this new tech and see how long it takes you to plot LoS from multistory structures and available cover on a 2D map. It's a planning tool for now, helping intelligent soldiers get the job done, that's enough to make it worthwhile.

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Nick Dwyer July 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Nom nom nom troll was fed

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Brian Black July 30, 2011 at 7:33 am

It's not meant to replace maps. Troops produce and use models rather than maps for briefings, for better clarity. This can replace a roughly knoked up model with a clearer representation, that is also more handy and portable.

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Orion July 29, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Good stuff 1st Gen. seen this 1st time in 99 latest is mind blowing.

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Joshua July 29, 2011 at 2:11 pm

It’s funny your negative about this “oblat”. In special forces training, they have to complete dozens of STAR courses carrying 65lb+ rucks in nighttime and daytime in swamps and other difficult terrain. This means they march to various points by themselves in a given amount of time using only a *map* protractor and their training.

Sorry to burst your negative bubble.

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JoeyC July 29, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Oh and the rucks were at least 85lbs not counting the 4 quarts of water (2-2 quart collapsible canteens on the ruck) =D

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JoeyC July 29, 2011 at 7:11 pm

The star course (so named because of the star road intersection at the center of the area is only done twice… at least that's what my selection consisted of. 2 times back to back. That was back in 2006 however so it may have changed but dozens is a little exaggeration. =D Take it easy!

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Joshua July 30, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Oh I was referring to information in yhe book chosen soldier by **** couch. By dozens I was speaking about all the phases for the x-rays and through phase 1 and 2 they did… I think 4 nighttime and 2 daytime and then 7 or 8 in phase two? Either way it’s sounds challenging as **** lol. And it’s inevitably changed!

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Joshua July 30, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Actually my bad again, I’m using star when that only refers to the STAR course. What I meant was that they go on dozens of rucks similar to this to prepare them for the course. Stupid me!

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Picard July 29, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Does this mean the holodeck from Star Trek TNG is a few years away? ;-)

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jhm August 3, 2011 at 12:46 am

more like halo lol

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JoeyC July 29, 2011 at 7:09 pm

The star course (so named because of the star road intersection at the center of the area is only done twice… at least that's what my selection consisted of. 2 times back to back. That was back in 2006 however so it may have changed but dozens is a little exaggeration. =D Take it easy!

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Dankster July 29, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Glad to hear the military can still field high tech kit without a huge headace. I honestly never knew about these.

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Oblat July 30, 2011 at 6:26 am

Technology has been used in cheap children's toys for 20 years now, but I guess if you want to make maps more expensive and you don't care about people being hit from dead ground then it's the way to go.

The determination of line of sight for instance is almost impossible. But hey it looks good rather than practical which is the whole point I guess.

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William C. July 30, 2011 at 11:45 pm

It seems you're the only one who has seen all of these holograms that you say are everywhere… perhaps you're need to adjust your medication dosages?

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William C. July 30, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Where is Princess Leia saying "Delta Force, you are my only hope."

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xpoqx August 1, 2011 at 2:21 am

Damn, that sounds pretty cool all trolling aside. Although it does not sound exactly believeable to me, the thought of a 3D model right in front of you for a breifing sounds a bit far off. Fuck meow sand tables and mad grids laid out on the ground with ammo cans and carboard boxes are going to be a thing of the past.

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Alyce November 1, 2011 at 3:16 pm

I came across your website and recognized the hologram in the picture.
When I moved the picture 90 degrees, a different floor inside the building popped up (channeling). Holograms are good for collaboration (especially if someone doesn't speak English well or know how to read a map), relaying information quickly, and retainage. It is easier to see terrain and heights. Holograms don't replace maps. I see them as a good planning/debrief tool. I heard of some soldiers who were following a trail that ended unexpectedly and were ambushed. If they had a hologram, they may not have chosen that trail.

I love Google Earth too but it is 3D technology on a 2D surface. Holograms are a flat film with a 2 foot mountain range or building sticking up. The picture is called a "static" hologram. The Princess Leia is a Motion Display hologram. Static and motion are different products based on similar technology.

If you want detailed information, visit the zebraimaging website.

Holograms are just rocking fun to look at.

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