Disruptive by Design: Seven Compelling Use Cases for Augmented Reality
The time has arrived for the U.S. Defense Department to develop an enterprise solution for the coming wave of augmented reality (AR) systems. Unlike virtual reality (VR) systems that fully immerse users in computer-generated worlds, AR systems overlay virtual content on a user’s perceptual field of view using 2- and 3-D holograms. These images either remain fixed to a user’s perspective as he moves his body and head or anchored to georeferenced locations in a user’s surroundings.
Although AR systems have been around for years, most notably in the form of pilots’ heads-up displays, a number of new commercially viable AR devices have appeared recently. In fact, many analysts say AR and VR technologies have reached a tipping point for large-scale commercial adoption and will prove integral to users’ daily lives. As compelling as VR systems may be for training and telepresence, AR systems could have even more utility for military personnel. Here are seven reasons to consider making the shift.
To Enhance Understanding. AR systems improve users’ understanding of themselves, their environments and others by displaying enhanced information in real time. For example, biomonitoring applications can provide users real-time feedback about a physiological state, while other applications improve knowledge of surroundings by projecting additional information over objects and locations within a field of view. Future tactical systems may adopt these techniques to project intelligence reports about locations of interest as operators navigate an environment wearing AR display devices.
To Boost Situational Awareness. The Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) is working on a monocular AR display system to increase situational awareness for tactical users, providing known locations of friendly forces and various georeferenced targets. This system provides cues in users’ fields of view so they remain oriented to their surroundings. As these tactical systems advance, they should reduce the likelihood of fratricide and civilian casualties by helping operators accurately aim weapon systems and know if friendly forces are nearby.
To Benefit Navigation. An obvious benefit of AR devices is their ability to aid navigation and maneuvering. Whether driving or moving on foot, soldiers with Global Positioning System (GPS)-enabled compasses that provide current heading and can overlay virtual guides to vector travel enable more accurate and efficient travel. Having to look away from a path to reorient one’s “mental map” to a physical 2-D image can lead to disorientation. Future AR systems may significantly reduce the many lost hours some of us have experienced wandering aimlessly in the woods trying to regain our bearings.
To Increase Emotional Intelligence. One of the more advanced—and intriguing—use cases for AR systems comes from the area of research on biometrics and emotional intelligence. If an AR system has fine-tuned optical and infrared sensors, it can detect small changes in blood flow to capillaries in an individual’s face and, in turn, calculate changes in heart rate. When combined with advanced facial recognition and emotion detectors that measure microemotions, the sensors can begin to detect stress, dishonesty or embarrassment. Future operators wearing AR devices may be able to quickly surmise when someone is lying.
To Provide Remote Help. Carmakers such as Volkswagen and BMW employ AR systems to guide mechanics through engine repairs and maintenance. Lockheed Martin turned to AR systems to guide maintenance activities for the F-35 Lightning II. AR systems also provide experts via telepresence. In a video demonstration of Microsoft HoloLens’ advertised capabilities, a plumber is seen remotely talking a client through installing a pipe fitting. As the client installs the part, the remote plumber draws on the surface of his tablet, and his diagram appears in the client’s field of view. Future warfighters may have access to a whole Internet’s worth of remote experts, tutorials and instruction with just a click of a button or a swipe of a finger.
To Assist With Remote Robotics. As each of the services uses more unmanned systems and robotics, troops will need intuitive control mechanisms and interfaces. AR display devices can provide the necessary perspective for local and remote pilots. As an unmanned system switches from autonomous control to supervised coordination, it can alert a pilot, who can gain situational awareness of the unmanned system’s perspective and then make a decision based on this information.
To Improve Training and Education. Last but not least, AR systems would provide virtual training aids in real-world environments, letting trainers dramatically increase the authenticity of the experience. For example, the Office of Naval Research demonstrated that by using rudimentary AR systems, Marine combat leaders could practice call-for-fire exercises on a golf course rather than at a live-fire range, saving money and increasing exercise repetitions.
As the commercial world delivers amazing AR systems, the Defense Department must do the same. To be successful, however, leaders must begin with the most compelling use cases and build the infrastructure and services sustainable in a joint environment.
Maj. Ryan Kenny, USA, created an online forum to foster discussions on emerging technologies at www.militarycommunicators.org. The views expressed here are his alone and do not represent the views and opinions of the U.S. Defense Department, U.S. Army or other organizations with which he has been affiliated.