BAE Systems is aiming to bring augmented reality to the battlefield, as it develops a new system that would overlay virtual information on the real world. The company believes that in a timeframe of 20 years we could see the system condensed into a contact lens. Working in conjunction with the University of Birmingham, BAE is confident that the new tech could be applied to provide an edge in battle, or save lives in an emergency situation.
Currently, the only offering comes in the form of a demonstration system, using an Oculus Rift headset as the visual interface, allowing the operator to see the real world alongside a host of virtual information including photos and video streams. However the company and its partners are working on two analogues of the VR tech – a Portable Command Centre and a Wearable Cockpit.
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The Portable Command Centre would be contained in a briefcase-sized container, utilizing a headset and a specialized pair of gloves to interact with the VR display. Once set up, it would allow for unprecedented co-ordination of military assets. The virtual command post could be used to monitor live UAV streams and direct troops anywhere in the world, tapping into news and possibly social media content to gain a feeling of a situation on the ground without the need to actually be there. BAE also envisions the system playing host to virtual avatars that give advice when asked – so basically, it would be like Jarvis from Marvel's Iron Man franchise.
Imagine a cockpit that never required a hardware upgrade, and can be constantly reconfigured to the pilot's personal preference. That's what BAE is hoping to achieve with its Wearable Cockpit, pictured above. Any updates could simply be installed on the virtual interface, which could result in savings running into the millions.
BAE concedes that pilots will always have to wear protective helmets, and has hinted that it will attempt to integrate the Oculus Rift-esqe visual element into the helmet itself, possibly using the visor to overlay the virtual information.
The possible applications of the technology are boundless. It could be used to streamline disaster relief operations by allowing for an unprecedented in situ understanding of resource allocation. Of course the most obvious application is in the military sphere. A high-tech VR system would not only allow for incredible real-time battlefield management by military commanders, but would also represent an immersive training solution.
In the long term, the system could be contained in a pair of shades, and from there condensed into a contact lens. BAE states that the next step in the program will be to incorporate the core technologies into a number of more specialized demonstration programs.
Source: BAE SystemsView gallery - 3 images