ONR's augmented reality glasses turns golf course into a virtual battlefield

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The Augmented Immersive Team Trainer (AITT) system being demonstrated on May 21, 2015 at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, VA(Credit: Nicole Lemoine / Graphic Artist, Vencore)

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The smallest distraction can break a golfer's concentration and ruin their shot, so how would they react to tanks and explosions? If they were at the 18 hole course at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, last week, probably not at all. That's because the fairways and greens were only turned into a battlefield complete with tanks, mortar fire, and smoke thanks to the Office of Naval Research's (ONR) Augmented Immersive Team Trainer (AITT), which made the firefight visible only to participants wearing special glasses.

It's easy to believe that battles are won by those with the most troops, best weapons, or biggest budget, but history shows that time and again the decisive factor is often training. Accounting for other factors, the most successful armed forces are those who train continuously and relentlessly until the necessary discipline, skills, and motivations become more than second nature.

The trouble is, such training is incredibly expensive with exercises costing as much as a task force deployment. That's why the US military is keen on finding cheaper ways of gaining the same results without all the wear and tear of using real equipment.

On May 21 at Quantico, representatives from the US Army, Navy, and Marine Corps witnessed the first demonstration of AITT, which uses special glasses to enhance augmented reality training. This differs from virtual reality in that, instead of creating a complete digital environment, AITT overlays virtual information on the real world as seen through the glasses.

In other words, the golfer in the sand bunker on the 8th hole sees a sunny, quiet day as he reaches for the five iron, but a Marine wearing a pair of AITT glasses sees enemy combatants in pickup trucks coming on in a line marked by fire and explosions accompanied by sound effects.

The key to this are the glasses, or "optical see-through components," as ONR likes to call them. These were developed via a Small Business Technology Transfer program, and ONR says that while the technology may sound like Google Glass, the AITT system is more advanced, with a larger field of view than commercial products.

In its fifth year of research and development, the AITT system forms, in the words of Marine Major Le Nolan, "a portable high definition [personal computer] screen in front of your eyes that can integrate and render complex information in a manner that does not exist for the typical heads-up displays Marines use today."

It's hoped the AITT will help in achieving the goal of the Marine Corps Vision & Strategy 2025 to produce a training system that can realistically reproduce the complex battlefield environment that Marines must deal with. ONR says that the current phase of the project will end later this year after a final large-scale demonstration at Quantico. It will then transfer to the Marine Corps Program Manager for Training Systems for more testing and development.

"For Marines, this system increases their situational awareness, whether for training or operations, giving them a wider aperture for information to help make better decisions," says Nolan. “And, in the end, that’s what we’re trying to do here in [ONR’S Human Performance Training and Education program]; give warfighters enough information to make the best decision possible, but not overwhelm them with so much information that they can’t make sense of it."

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