Defense IT

Army immerses soldiers in a virtual reality dome

The Army is opening a new virtual reality dome said to better enable the studying of the impacts of real-world operational situations on soldiers’ cognitive abilities and performance.

The dome, developed by the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, will provide a 180-degree horizontal field using high-density front-projection to create an immersive world modeled after real locations, the Army said in a release.

“The new VR laboratory will provide the Cognitive Science and Applications Team the ability to conduct research using more operationally relevant scenarios while still maintaining experimental control in our studies,” team leader for NSRDEC’s cognitive science and applications team, Dr. Caroline Mahoney, said. “This capability brings our tightly controlled laboratory work one step closer to the field/operationally relevant environment.”

Natick’s dome will assess the impact of various environments on soldier cognition.

Users can interact and alter environments with hand-held and weapon-based devices that control movement and weapon aiming. 

“This NSRDEC virtual reality capability affords novel applied, interdisciplinary science and technology activities that close traditional translational gaps between laboratory and field,” Mahoney said. “The integration of multiple input modalities, along with multisensory feedback, increases the realism, immersion and engagement on behalf of users subjected to prolonged, workload-intensive activities … provid[ing] unprecedented opportunities to monitor and optimize human behavior during real-world task execution, and to evaluate and predict the impact of innovative human-systems technologies on operational performance.”

Such characteristics are what has attracted the military to virtual and augmented reality systems. The Marines, for example, have used simulations to improve training on M1A1 tanks. The Army has used virtually immersive environments to improve small arms training, improve tactical capabilities and work with team members prior to deployment. “Those types of combat service support folks use it to refine their tactical capability,” Clarence Pape, vice president of simulation and training for Intelligent Decisions, told Army Magazine. “It helps with their communication. It helps with their understanding of the environment. And certainly it helps them to practice how they would move as individuals and as a group.”

The dome is not a finished product, but rather a work in progress to which improved capabilities will continue to be added. The Army said future alterations could include whole-body motion tracking, low-frequency vibration, directional wind and, potentially, vibro-tactile collision feedback combing vibration and touch to provide a more realistic physical sense of a virtual environment.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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