Augmented reality systems as small as a contact lens could revolutionise complex emergency response and military battlefield operations in the future, by drastically improving the situational awareness, decision-making and asset management of operators.
British engineers from BAE Systems are working in collaboration with academics at the University of Birmingham to develop applications for this ground-breaking technology concept, which intelligently ‘mixes’ together the real and virtual world to allow operators to take real-time control of their environments like never before.
This includes a briefcase sized portable command centre that can be easily deployed and set-up anywhere to tackle emergency scenarios by creating a ‘virtual’ information rich workspace, and a ‘wearable cockpit’ to provide pilots with a customisable environment to enhance their situational awareness while also reducing the cost of cockpit upgrades.
This revolutionary concept called ‘mixed reality’ allows the operator to see themselves and their surroundings along with virtual images, video feeds, objects and avatars, seamlessly bringing together the critical battlefield elements in a single place.
The technology is brought to life by an ‘Oculus Rift’ style headset allowing military commanders to direct military operations, such as troops and Unmanned Air Vehicles, across a virtual representation of the landscape for real situations or simply as part of a training solution. The technology is being developed at such a pace that the current demonstrator headsets could be replaced with something as small and light as a pair of spectacles within a decade and a contact lens within 20.
Nick Colosimo, Futurist at BAE Systems, said:
“We’re already seeing virtual and augmented reality becoming more commonplace in consumer products, and the possibilities it offers the armed forces are hugely exciting. Our unique approach will identify the optimal balance between the real world and the virtual – enhancing the user’s situational awareness to provide battle-winning and life-saving tools and insights wherever they may be.
“Through collaborating with the University of Birmingham, we are able to bring together some of the best minds available in this subject area to develop these concepts and evolve the technology itself.”
Professor Bob Stone, Simulation & Human Factors Specialist at the University of Birmingham said:
“Being able to physically manipulate virtual objects in the real world has been challenging scientists for 40 years. Since my first virtual reality experience at NASA nearly 30 years ago, the technology has evolved from the primitive head-mounted displays and computers to today’s world where we can interact with complex virtual objects, integrated in real-time with real-world scenarios.
“Our work with BAE Systems shows just how close we are to delivering the next generation of advanced mixed reality interfaces for future applications not only in defence, but also in such important domains as engineering and healthcare.”
BAE Systems, supported by the University of Birmingham, is developing two ‘mixed reality’ technology concepts:
PORTABLE COMMAND CENTRE
The Portable Command Centre concept uses commercial technology to create a semi-virtual environment that can be transported in a briefcase and set up anywhere from within a tent to an office to tackle emergency scenarios such as an outbreak of fire or an act of terrorism.
Users put on a virtual reality headset and interactive gloves – and a mixed reality control station appears around them. Users can monitor situations anywhere in the world, zooming in and manipulating environments, directing troops and pulling in virtual video screens that allow them to monitor news channels and feeds from UAVs.
As well as this, users can bring in artificially intelligent avatars that monitor the entire environment, provide real-time voice updates and even offer advice when asked.
The Virtual Cockpit is created by a headset that provides infinitely reconfigurable virtual displays and controls, allowing pilots to customise their interface with the aircraft based on their own preferences, mission objectives and the task immediately at hand.
The technology is designed to be easily upgraded and customised to meet the demands of a rapidly changing future environment, saving valuable time and significantly reducing costs.