Plug-in smartphone app enables military parachutists to land with greater precision

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. A team of engineers at Draper Laboratories recently filed a patent for a smartphone app that automatically detects when parachutists make the critical transition from the plane to being under their parachute canopy.

According to the Draper team, parachutists gliding to a designated landing zone can go off course and lose their way, which can quickly turn a routine jump into a dangerous situation. If a parachutist is unable to keep on course or is prevented from changing course to a new landing zone, descending to Earth can potentially place their life in jeopardy and put those around them in danger.

Emily Vincent, Draper’s division leader of Information and Cognition, said that the system is designed to help teams succeed in the dynamic and changeable environment of a jump: “Our goal is to seamlessly integrate the technology into the jump team’s workflow in a way that enhances their situational awareness of the environment and the other members of the team.”

The app -- which operates as a plug-in to a smartphone, with the first version available for the platform -- is designed for parachutists to view the terrain below them, the location of the jump team around them, and the designated landing point. The app is also equipped to track the parachutists by sensing the moment they leave the plane; at that point, the app automatically switches navigation modes, enabling the parachutist to focus on maneuvering their parachute rather than adjusting the app.

Topics covered in this article