Murphy's Law: August 26, 2004

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Back in 2001, the U.S. Marines introduced a radical new camouflage pattern that used pixels (little square or round spots of color, like you will find on your computer monitor if you look very closely), instead of just splotches of different colors. Naturally, this was called digital camouflage. This new pattern proved considerably more effective at hiding troops than older methods. For example, in tests, it was found that soldiers wearing digital pattern uniforms were 50 percent more likely to escape detection by other troops, than if they were wearing standard green uniforms. What made the digital pattern work was the way the human brain processed information. The small "pixels" of color on the cloth makes the human brain see vegetation and terrain, not people. One could provide a more technical explanation, but the brain processing one pretty much says it all. 

However, the Canadian army quickly chimed in that they had been developing digital camouflage since 1996. Shortly thereafter, some old timers in the U.S. Army noted that they had seen digital camouflage in the 1970s. And they had. It turns out that Lieutenant Colonel Timothy R. ONeill, a West Point professor of engineering psychology, had first noted the digital camouflage effect. It was never adopted for use in uniforms, but was used for a camouflage pattern on armored vehicles of the U.S. Army 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Europe from 1978 to the early 1980s. Why hadnt the army adopted it for uniforms back in the 1970s? It seems that the key army people (uniformed and civilian) deciding such things in the 1970s could not grasp the concept of how digital camouflage worked on the human brain, and were not swayed by field tests. Strange, but true, and its happened before. In 2003, the U.S. Army decided to use digital camouflage patterns for their new field uniforms. China and Finland have also decided to use digital camouflage for new field uniforms. 

New ideas are often slow to catch on in the military, and digital camouflage was one of them. 

 


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