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Companies Offer New Visual Systems for Training

Dec. 4, 2012 - 01:25PM   |  
By LAUREN BIRON   |   Comments
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ORLANDO — Several companies at this year’s I/ITSEC conference are hoping that the government will embrace enhanced visual systems for training. Various types of augmented and virtual reality are on display, with developers hoping for further military interest despite tight budgets.

One company, Oculus VR, is primarily focused on gaming technology. Their offering is a $300 developer’s kit that provides software and hardware to create stereoscopic 3-D in a virtual headset. Sensors track a user’s head movement while the software splits and warps imagery to create a pair of images, providing an immersive 3-D experience in a video game.

“We’re super focused on gaming, but there’s also serious gaming. There’s a lot of crossover there,” said Joseph Chen, senior project manager for Oculus VR.

While the headset is designed to be a cheap immersive solution for gamers, Chen says the technology could be applied to training games to create more realistic and immersive environments. Users could practice tactics and techniques while taking advantage of natural head movement. Alternatively, developers could take real-world data and create an immersive real environment to practice missions virtually before undertaking them live.

The project is still young, but the company does have involvement with both the Unity and Unreal engines, which are sometimes used for serious gaming.

Stereoscopic vision is also the key feature for zSpace, a hardware and software combination for visualizing and exploring complex objects. Using an electronic stylus and 3-D glasses, a user can pull parts out of an object, rotate them, and seemingly lift them out of the screen. The system also uses head tracking and modifies the view based on the position, creating a more realistic interactive experience.

The demo on display let users dissect military vehicles with various components such as radios and computer systems. The obvious use for the technology is maintenance training, since the system allows users to intuitively manipulate and explore the machines.

Barton Fiske, director of sales for Mountain View-based zSpace, said the technology could also be altered to support medical or anatomical models, or used for familiarizing service members with weapons. Another zSpace demo ran a Unity game, showing potential for adapting serious games to the system.

Epson’s Moverio, an Android-powered pair of clear glasses that overlays a virtual display on the real world, could also be used for maintenance training. The digital overlay can display how to maintain equipment while leaving the user’s hands free. The highlight of their booth was a quadrocopter periodically humming above attendees. Using the see-through glasses, a service member could fly the device and simultaneously see the video stream, creating a potential one-man solution for intelligence gathering.

Finally, Ngrain had their augmented reality demo on display, which overlaid equipment information, flow diagrams, and procedural information on an actual object. The system indicates when it is tracking the object and can outline and x-ray the equipment.

It can draw on Ngrain’s already existing models, which the company has optimized to be device agnostic. The Canadian company’s explorable 3-D models are available on a variety of tablets and computers – and developers are at work on a prototype that runs on an iPhone.

Several hours after the exhibit halls opened, companies were still waiting to woo military visitors and have not had much feedback yet. All four companies, however, report interest from industry and government from previous encounters. Augmented and virtual realities are clearly on people’s minds at this year’s conference, and it is only a matter of time to see which products the government will move to adopt.

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