The military sector has always been at the forefront of using emerging technological advancements for the purposes of training and combat enhancements.
And augmented reality is no exception. Far before Snapchat released its filters (which is the simplest form of AR) and augmented reality mobile app development wasn’t a thing, the army had already implemented the technology of real-time overlaying for their fighter-jet pilots.
Because warfare is constantly evolving, armies have to keep up with the newest military “trends” and look for opportunities to get ahead in the technological war. And, with the expanding possibilities of data and graphics processing, the number of uses of augmented reality in military grows exponentially.
Have you ever thought that real combat might actually become more like those first-person shooting games? Well, AR developers have accepted the challenge and already started building the first prototypes to bring “modern” warfare concepts into reality.
In this article, we will try to cover the most recent developments in the area of augmented reality that can revolutionize the army.
We will also go over all possible applications of augmented reality in the military as well as the problems that might hinder the implementation process.
Three solutions to warfare augmentation
Tactical Augmented Reality (TAR)
Remember we mentioned that AR technologies were used for fighter planes? This is where the term “heads-up” display emerged.
All the crucial information (spatial orientation data, weapons targeting, etc.) is being superimposed onto the pilot’s visor, so they do not have to look down at their panels all the time and have much better situational awareness.
Something like that has been developed by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) that are actively researching the potential of augmented reality technology.
TAR looks like the night-vision goggles (NVG), but it can offer much more possibilities. It can show a soldier their exact location, and the positions of the allied and enemy forces.
The system is mounted to the helmet the same way the goggles are and can operate during both night and day. So, TAR basically replaces the typical handheld GPS device and goggles. As a result, a soldier would not have to look down whenever they want to check their GPS location.
Moreover, there is a thermal site on the weapon that is wirelessly connected to the tactical augmented reality eyepiece and a tablet on the soldier’s waist. Such a system allows soldiers to see the target they’re aiming at and the distance to it.
Also, the display can be split in two so that you can see where your gun is pointing at and the view from your frontal camera mounted on the helmet at the same time. For instance, a soldier can see around a corner or over the wall without any risk of getting a headshot.
To put the cherry on the top, tactical augmented reality has its own wireless network that allows soldiers to share information among their squad members or input data whenever the situation changes.
Tactical augmented reality heads-up display can improve the soldiers’ battlefield awareness, reduce the number of devices that must be carried, and help beat the tar out of your enemies more efficiently.
HUD 3.0: Another promising helmet-mounted AR display
At the AUSA Global Force Symposium and Exposition, an event that gathers members of the industry, military, and academia, a new helmet-mounted augmented reality display was announced, and it is called HUD 3.0.
Aiming enhancement, navigation improvement, and virtual training is what HUD 3.0 can offer to the US Army soldiers. However, the field tests of this augmented reality novelty will only begin in roughly a year.
There is HUD 1.0, which is also called Enhanced Night Vision Goggles – Binocular (ENVG-B). This AR device provides soldiers with a better night sight and tactical information (enemy or allied units location, etc.) in the form of an overlay.
In addition to that, it has a targeting reticle that is wirelessly linked to the rifle and shows where a soldier is aiming at.
Christopher Donahue, the head of CFT (Cross Functional Team for Soldier Lethality) said that field tests had shown a substantially improved accuracy of the participants using this augmented reality head-up display.
HUD 3.0 will be able to do everything the 1.0 can plus overlapping digital terrain, obstacles, and virtual foes. This feature of augmented reality will allow complicated training scenarios to be run at a much lower cost.
So-called wargames, where troops can fight against one another are quite expensive and therefore are not conducted often.
According to Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, who is in charge of the digital training CFT, soldiers will be able to use HUD 3.0 at any time at their home bases and train with virtual enemies that act and look in a realistic way.
The work is still in progress, but the prototype should be light, robust, compact and customizable. The latter feature is essential for AR devices because what a regular shooter must see and what should be displayed to a squad leader are very different things.
Synthetic Training Environment (STE)
Training is nothing compared to the real combat. When you’re in the heart of a hot zone where gunfire is all around you, it is difficult to stay calm and make the right calls.
Spending time in barracks and shooting at 2D cardboard models won’t prepare you for the real actions to the full extent. However, there might be a looming solution provided by augmented reality.
Synthetic Training Environment, an AR system that should help train soldiers in a more immersive way, putting them into more physically and mentally stressing operational environments.
The Army Research Laboratory (ARL), University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, Combined Arms Center-Training (CAC-T) and Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation (PEO STRI) are now developing the main principles that should govern the STE project.
One of the key objectives pursued by the STE developers is to create such a training option that would allow commanders to establish adaptive units with a higher readiness level.
Although there are no prototypes yet, the Army representatives have high hopes that it will be possible to use STE training for any type of combat teams (infantry, aviation, Stryker, etc.).
The benefits of using augmented and virtual reality in the military training have already been recognized.
AR and VR technologies save money, create a much safer environment for trainees, and help soldiers develop cognitive skills.
According to the report of the Official Naval Research (ONR), people who do not play video games have a less developed field of vision, are worse at memorizing visual objects and process new information slower if compared to gamers.
Therefore, creating game-like simulations with the help of VR and AR can significantly boost the soldiers’ cognitive abilities and put virtual training in line with field practices.
In essence, STE is a mixture of all three realities – virtual, augmented and physical. It is supposed to be flexible enough to allow for mission rehearsals of most types and be intuitive enough to make training effective.
One of the main advantages of such a platform would be the number of iterations you can go through during one training and the ability to adjust the system in real time.
The Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Team is striving to all training environments into a single platform with open architecture and intuitive interface.
They also want to ensure that any part of the globe can be accessed via such a system because various environments have different complexities in terms of combat operations.
All in all, when STE is up and running, it should represent an ultimate training platform that can rapidly adapt to the advancements of modern warfare. It is the future of augmented reality technology for military use.
Other applications of augmented reality in military
ARES – Augmented reality sandtable
Sand tables have been used to plan military operations and train cadets for many years. Usually, it is a table with a scaled physical model of the involved terrain and some kind of plastic figures to position the allied and enemy troops.
Army Research Laboratory had finished developing an AR version of a military sand table in 2015. They used an off-the-shelf projector, a simple LCD monitor, laptop and Microsoft Kinect.
ARES provides improved battlefield visual representation, decreases the time required to model the terrain and scenarios, and provides a much higher level of engagement for students.
The main features of ARES are:
- Wide selection of terrain types
- Control with gestures
- Real-time terrain generation (using hands)
- Intuitive interface
- Network for distant collaboration
“Glass” tank CV90
At the Defence and Security Equipment International 2017 (DSEI) conference, BAE Systems Hägglunds presented their CV90 battle station that has been improved using augmented reality.
CV90 is a combat vehicle that can hold up to eight troops. But BAE’s goal is to make this formidable machine into a “glass box” for those who are inside.
By using all the data from external sensors, it is possible to process a 360-degree image in real time and make any battle vehicle transparent for the operator.
An AR headset can do that and overlay combat information for even better awareness. And, the gunner can operate a turret without showing on the top of the tank thus risking his life.
So what are the pros and cons of augmented reality?
By analyzing all the concepts and use cases of augmented reality in military, we can give you a quite extensive list of all the pluses and minuses of using augmented reality technology in this sector.
Pros of AR
- Operational and situational awareness (SA).
To make better judgments, operation commanders are usually looking for the ways to gain and exploit SA. Augmented reality can give them such an opportunity by providing tools for better monitoring of operational space, time and forces.
- These AR instruments benefit both leaders that manage the operations and field soldiers. The former can get a better perspective on large-scale missions, and the latter is provided with real-time information superimposed on their visors by augmented reality systems.
- Less costly combat training.
The ability to conduct training without using expensive and often fragile equipment (often using mixed reality). Instead of getting real vehicles out in the field and expend consumables, AR can offer a flexible training platform that can be even more effective when it comes to getting a better feel of what an actual war is like.
- Other advantages of augmented reality:
- Safer training environments
- More accessed mission rehearsals
- Terrain diversity and customization
- Real-time targeting aid
- Enhanced spatial awareness
- Engaging mission planning.
Cons of AR
- Information overload.
Such a phenomenon might occur when there’s too much data available, and it is not appropriately structured. The continuous streams of information provided by augmented reality systems might be more of a hinder than an enhancement. Therefore, it is vital to filter the data you receive through AR devices to avoid overload and prevent distraction.
- Dependence on AR technologies.
There are concerns that people responsible for making key decisions might rely too much on AR enhancements. Should that happen, then any type of disruption or destruction of augmented reality systems will allow the enemy to gain a significant advantage. Therefore, besides using AR technologies, basic decision-making tools (like maps) must be maintained.
The way of handling the communication and data storing by AR and VR systems has always been one of the main concerns in the military along with the policy of AR applications and equipment and their accreditation.
AR devices and systems are starting to penetrate the military sector. More and more augmented reality heads-up displays and comprehensive training platforms emerge as mere concepts or prototypes ready for testing.
Although all those futuristic scenes of warfare are becoming more feasible, AR technology is quite immature and requires further research and development. Especially in terms of visual registration, overlapping, robustness and the convenience of head-mounted AR eyewear.
Thinking about trying out augmented reality in military sector?
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