A futuristic look for British soldiers' kit will come considerably closer to realisation next week. The Defence Procurement Agency, responsible for buying UK defence equipment and services, will announce its list of potential contractors for wearable computers on Monday.
The move comes hot on the heels of the US Navy and National Guard announcing they had chosen wearable computer company Xybernaut to supply personal battle systems.
"We have just sent out prequel questionnaires to companies to ascertain the level of interest, and have received replies from roughly 100 companies who are interested in taking part," said Jeremy Greaves, speaking for the Defence Procurement Agency.
Scientists at the Ministry of Defence have been developing a set of technologies under the Future Infantry Soldier Technology (Fist) program for over five years, in an attempt to provide soldiers with high-tech equipment for use at infantry level.
"By 2005 about 100 soldiers will be testing equipment [to achieve] eventual operating capability by around 2008," said Greaves
Experimental prototypes include voice-activated computers and night-vision goggles as well as Universal Soldier-style visual display units providing soldiers with extra visual enhancement that will be vital in a battle situation.
But the MoD found early models to be too heavy and bulky. "The [infantry kits] will be under development over the next few years," said Greaves. Some of the key issues that need to be addressed are power supply, weight and bandwidth to individual soldiers' systems.
It is hoped that emerging technologies will allow digital systems to be linked to weapons through tiny lightweight devices.