"Today’s Sailor is accustomed to and now expects, new technology in their day-to-day job. Which hopefully makes the adoption of new systems easier."
– Heidi Buck, Director, NIWC Pacific BEMR Lab
Ask yourself this question, what is reality?
Isn’t reality, well … real? And if perimeters of reality can be manipulated, what are the ramifications for our future forces? That’s a question scientists at Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific and its predecessors have been asking for almost 60 years.
Among the results has been NIWC Pacific’s standup of the Battlespace Exploitation of Mixed Reality (BEMR) Lab, which was recognized by the Secretary of the Navy with Innovation Awards, both in 2016 and 2017. The BEMR Lab demonstrates how cutting edge, low-cost, commercial-off-the-shelf mixed reality technology—virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR)—can be applied to training, operations, prototyping, and maintenance applications within the Navy and Marine Corps in the near future.
That lab has now matured and is hosting events such as its recent Technical Exchange on Augmented Reality for Military, Maintenance, and 3D Modeling (TEAR 3M), Feb. 23–24, 2021. With more than 100 speakers, booths and demos, the focus was on industrial AR/VR, or the use of AR/VR and other immersive technologies to better support workers performing maintenance tasks. The two-day technical exchange was hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) and was attended by more than 700 attendees from the Navy, DoD, industry and academia.
Heidi Buck, director of NIWC Pacific’s BEMR Lab, led the discussions focused on the Navy’s digital transformation and needs in areas including: AR/VR, 2D/3D displays, mobile displays, wearables, 3D modeling, manufacturing, installations, construction, training, maintenance and repairs, and more.
“For this event we focused on the maintainer—their tools and their training. And during my day one keynote [presentation] we discussed what was enabling the move to more immersive environments to support the Navy’s maintainers,” Buck said.
“More and more data is accessible, digitized and interoperable—which means fewer paper-based systems or stove-piped systems. Also, there is wider access to wireless networks whether it be on ship or on shore.” Buck continued, “There are also improved technologies to better train and support the maintainer, whether those devices are tablets, cell phones, handhelds, or AR/VR. But most importantly, today’s Sailor is accustomed to, and now expects, new technology in their day-to-day job. Which hopefully makes the adoption of new systems easier.”
The first keynote speaker was Curtis Hickman, cofounder and chief creative officer of The Void, a mixed reality entertainment company. Hickman, a magician and hyper reality specialist who has consulted for professional magicians such as David Copperfield and Criss Angel, explained what magic has to do with virtual reality.
“Magic is all about illusion design. Magic is this very concept of virtual reality,” said Hickman. Through demonstrations of magic and testimonials from participants in The Void VR experiences, Hickman broadened the definition—and raised the standard—of what it means to build an alternate reality.
“What is the difference between virtual reality and hyper reality?” he asked. “It’s not just seeing the virtual reality around you, it’s feeling it. It’s mapping virtual worlds onto physical ones. If there were buttons, you could reach out and touch them—they were there. If it’s raining, you can feel it. You can feel the weather, the moisture on your skin….and your friends and family are there, too. You can live in these worlds together.”
Other speakers included Cathy Hackl, augmented AR/VR, artificial intelligence and spatial computing author and futurist, who discussed the future of technology and how we will be interacting with avatars in a virtual world in the near future. The conference also featured government panelists who discussed how companies in the AR/VR space can work with the government, as well as technical briefs and panels on some of the efforts the government is leading.
Additional keynotes on day one included leaders in the AR/VR headset space: Mark Day, from Microsoft HoloLens group, Paul Sells from Mira Labs, and Paul Bund from Varjo. Day two focused on panel discussions and networking to assist the Navy with its digital transformation and adapting mixed reality for future forces.
With more than 700 virtual attendees, the conference was deemed a success by Buck and plans are underway for a 2022 event.