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.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:
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 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.