Headsets to aid military commanders
Technology is being developed which will allow military commanders to put on headsets to direct operations.
They will be able to order the deployment of troops and drones across a virtual representation of the landscape in real situations.
British engineers from BAE Systems are working in collaboration with academics at the University of Birmingham to develop applications for the concept, which 'mixes' together the real and virtual world to allow operators to take control of their environments in a way they have not done before.
This includes a briefcase-sized portable command centre that can be set up anywhere to tackle emergency scenarios by creating a workspace that is rich in 'virtual' information. The concept of 'mixed reality' allows the operator to see themselves and their surroundings along with virtual images, video feeds, objects and avatars, bringing together the critical battlefield elements in a single place.
The technology is brought to life by an Oculus Rift style headset such as is used in video games and which could be deployed in real situations or in training. It is thought 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 years.
The development is also expected to assist emergency response to disaster situations.
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 and 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."