sand table

The US military has displayed a potential new sand table technology at the recently concluded Modern Day Marine exhibition held aboard the Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, US.

Developed by the Army Research Laboratory, the augmented reality sand (ARES) table features a laptop connected to a projector and a Microsoft Kinect, a combined microphone and camera device used with video game systems.

The table combines readily available and relatively inexpensive commercial off-the-shelf technology, and improves on the notecards and string seen in legacy sand tables by projecting images of units and landscapes down onto a tabletop box of sand.

Projecting units and vehicles as 3×5 notecards and roads or streams as pieces of string, the traditional sand tables are rudimentary three-dimensional maps used for military planning and war games on a small scale.

Marine Corps Systems Command Training Systems assistant programme manager and operations manager Martin Bushika said: "It provides a faster and more robust capability to visualise those candidate areas of operation.

"ARES can give more detail and a more precise replication of a given area."

The computer-run sand table is expected to provide the US Department of Defense with a wide array of capabilities, including the ability to link two tables that could be located miles apart.

STTC senior instructional systems specialist Charles Amburn said: "If you have two tables, you could link them and conduct planning between groups in different places.

"ARES can give more detail and a more precise replication of a given area."

"Or, another interesting possibility is linking the tables to play war games between the two tables.

"You could do one table against the other, which makes it more realistic because the two forces wouldn’t be able to see each other until they were within line of sight with each other."

ARES is likely to be equipped with special software in the future to more accurately reflect maritime manoeuvres or biological / radiation threats on a battlefield, provided it is necessary for the military.

The table is set to undergo limited-user evaluations at the Basic School on Quantico.

Image: US soldiers take a look at the contour map projected onto the sand of the augmented reality sand table at the Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, US. Photo: courtesy of Carden Hedelt, US Marine Corps.

Defence Technology