ROVER: Software Tool for Military Dog Handlers Detecting Explosives

ROVER is a distinct module that employs Virtual Battlespace - a training tool widely used by the U.S. Army - and helps dog handlers practice commands and learn to read the dog's silent cues to find improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Adam Moses, a computer scientist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), created the program, which runs off an Xbox Kinect, after watching hundreds of hours of tapes of handlers and their dogs in Iraq. "ONR wanted a way for the human to train with a dog, with a virtual dog, that you can train with anytime, anywhere," he says. "Gestures are important, the whistle commands are important, even the voice commands are important." Moses wrote what he calls a skeleton tracker program for ROVER, so an Xbox Kinect camera can 'see' a player's gestures. He was asked to build the program because of NRL's expertise with modeling plumes for hazardous material releases and attacks in urban environments. "[An IED is] actually leaking all this gas subtly, that no human built sensor could read because the particles are so small," says Moses. "Per billion is the level these dogs can sniff." He sees a potential for the program to be adapted for law enforcement agencies. Hidden narcotics also release plumes detectable by dogs, and Moses imagines using Virtual Battlespace to help handlers practice in different scenarios, like crowded airports or border crossings or city streets.