Seven Use Cases for Augmented Realty in the Military

Microsoft HoloLens is the first large scale commercial move for augmented reality technology. If you have not seen their promotional videos you should watch the following before you continue reading:

Though Google Glasses may be dead or on hold, Microsoft is not alone in trying to get a product to market. Sony as well is playing in this space. Unlike Sony and Google Glass – which sparked a debate about privacy and safety concerns – HoloLens appears to be marketed for in-office and in-home use – environments that differ from public locations in terms of legal status for both privacy and safety concerns.

As we previously discussed on our site, augmented reality as a distinct sector of IT appears to have reached a tipping point. This technology is set to leave the basements and garages of innovators and move into the living rooms and offices of early adopters – as conceptualized by those that model technology adoption lifecycles.

As we wrestle to understand what the emergence of this new capability means – we will find plenty of opportunities to apply its capabilities to our current gaps – but along the way we may find that some very fundamental ways in which we interact with our environments and each other will change irrevocably.

Some of the ways augmented reality will transform everyday life – that have parallels in the military – include the following:

  • Command and Control – augmented reality has the ability to fundamentally change how leaders direct their forces and how teammates share information. While wearing an augmented reality device information about the location of a target or a teammate could be projected over a user’s perceptual experience of a real environment. Teammates could share their generated content by projecting it back into a common virtual experience shared by their team. This enables a whole new common operating picture experience. Imagine objectives, fire control measures, limits of advance, rally points, extraction HLZs, etc., all appearing as holographic overlays similar to the overlays demonstrated in this video – but not just on 2D maps – but also over real environments. Picture 3D blue-force tracking like capabilities projected in front of you. A leaders understanding of the operational factors of space, time, and force would gain increased fidelity.
  • Enhanced Location Services – as users move through an environment – augmented reality technology not only has the capability to aid their navigation – it can also dynamically present enhancing information about stimuli within the environment. This could come in the form of wiki-type text that appears when a user asks for it – or it might be delivered automatically by those that pay for augmented reality advertising (businesses are already considering how to embed their advertising within these emerging augmented reality ecosystems). This top-down, bottom-up guided attention will fundamentally change how humans interact with their environments. For those in the military it is easy to conceive of this technology enhancing our understanding of an operational environment – but this knowledge is only as good as the information being provided into the system. Concerns of accuracy of the information as well as its security will be a challenge for military consumers.
  • Social Augmented Experiences – wearables that deliver information about heart rate, body temperature, etc. already exist. As sensors increase users may gain the ability to detect things like heart rate or the sudden flow of blood to a user’s face from a distance –  which in turn may serve as an indicator for a change in their emotional state. These cues could begin to be linked into augmented reality applications that tell us how people are reacting to us. Applications that serve as real-time lie-detector tests or emotional intelligence coaches may likely appear after the large-scale adoption of AR devices. Most will feel uncomfortable knowing that others may have an advantage at understanding their underlying emotional state – but that does not mean these tools will not make their way to the market.
  • Industrial Maintenance – holographic guides and how-to diagrams can be oriented in real environments, in real time. This will help anyone with a mechanical or engineering issue overcome the challenges of mental rotation and orientation challenges. Rather than thumbing through maintenance manuals – projected solutions with step-by-step checklists could be delivered to operators. Gotta love the new Maintenance Monday!
  • Facilitating Education and Training – immersive experiences or projected holograms could aid many training scenarios. Not only could common battle drills be experienced with virtual enemies projected over real terrain – but the ability to capture information about a teammates actions during an exercise so that it can be replayed from various angles of observation for that user as well as the team. This could add a level of fidelity and meta-awareness few ever get to experience.

What it looks like today…

Versus what it could look like in the near future.

  • Engineering and Design – already these devices are being used by engineers and architects so they can better visualize what their creations will look like in the real world – to scale. Having this capability should save time in redesign and in product creation.
  • Entertainment and Games – what will drive the large scale adoption of augmented reality technologies will be their use in entertainment and gaming. I hate to sound crass – but the adult entertainment industry will likely be a driver for where this technology goes as it has for so many other entertainment technologies. The nature of virtual collaboration and holographic representations will follow from the development of these features in the entertainment and gaming industries.  VTCs will become Virtual Presence Conferences (VPC).

These are just a few of the primary buckets of experiences that augmented reality will likely revolutionize. What do you think augmented reality will change? What other use cases are there for this technology in the military?

As always – the views in this piece are mine alone and do not represent the U.S. government, Department of Defense, United States Army, or any other organization with which I have had any association.

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