Military wants high-tech glasses to see 'what operators are thinking about'

Canada's navy will soon have a new tool to assess how its sailors use complex systems such as radar and sonar.

The military's science and technology branch, Defence Research and Development Canada, is seeking a supplier for two pairs of wearable eye-tracking glasses.

Learning new software can be challenging for anyone — military or otherwise. Usually, when a military system is introduced, new users are interviewed about how easy it is to operate.

Knowing what the user is thinking

In addition to those opinions, the navy plans to use these specialized glasses to obtain more detailed and objective data.

"Eye movements can provide us with an indication of what operators are thinking about," Andrew McKelvey, a Department of National Defence official, said in an email.

"As an example, eye movements that show numerous revisits to an area of interest may indicate that the operator is searching for something, or that the information is confusing."

The glasses will track eye movements as well as pupil dilation, which can be used to assess workload and attention.

"This might lead us to determine that information on the screen should be visualized differently, reorganized or completely redesigned," said McKelvey.

A bit bulkier than normal glasses

The glasses will look similar to conventional glasses, but will be a bit bulkier due to the sensors. The request for proposals published online lists a maximum weight of 100 grams per pair of glasses.

It isn't the first time this type of technology has been used. Eye tracking was used to evaluate how submariners interact with the complex systems aboard Canada's Victoria-class subs.

This project will be used to "evaluate experimental concepts and operational systems as needed," McKelvey said.

The glasses will be delivered to the east coast for use in Nova Scotia, the online document indicates. Canada's new arctic and offshore patrol ships and Canadian surface combatant ships are being built in Nova Scotia.

However, the military would not confirm whether the glasses would be used aboard these new ships.