U.S. marines tested an augmented reality system from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) last week that could revolutionize the way they prepare for battle, allowing them to transform any location into a dynamic training ground.
The Nov. 6 demonstration, held outdoors at Lejeune Field at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, was an opportunity for ONR to showcase progress with the Augmented Immersive Team Trainer (AITT). The program brings simulation-based training to Marines in the field so they can train anywhere. The system works by injecting virtual images—indirect-fire effects, aircraft, vehicles, simulated people, etc.—onto a real-world view of one’s surroundings.
“Instead of going out to an old, stale range that has the same targets that people have been shooting at for the last 40 years, AITT provides a target-rich and dynamic environment for training without having to rely on external resources,” said Marine Corps Capt. Jack Holloway, a Marine assigned to ONR’s Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare and Combating Terrorism Department.
“This is true augmented reality: the system knows where you are in the real world and is able to accurately place other objects in that environment and keep them there, which has been a major challenge for other systems,” said ONR program manager Dr. Peter Squire. “The sky’s the limit in terms of the types of training scenarios you could create—whatever you can dream up, you can now run out in a real environment.”
In the past year, the system, now in its fourth year of development, has gone from working in a fixed position to being mobile. In the program’s next and final phase, the goal is to improve AITT incrementally and to move from a video see-through display—in which users view the world through a head-mounted video camera—to an optical see-through display, which would show images directly on the glass of a visor or eyewear. The video display works well when the user is stationary or moving slowly, but an optical see-through approach will enable greater mobility. ONR plans to take advantage of Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer efforts in wide-field-of-view optical see-through head-worn displays to take augmented reality to the next level. The best available head-worn display will be selected in the near future.
“Whereas Google Glass or other systems are just head-worn displays that place a static image in the wearer’s field of view, our augmented reality system allows users to put a virtual object in a specific location in a person’s natural field of view,” Squire said.
In the first phase of the program, AITT concentrated on Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) training. JTACs coordinate attacks by combat aircraft. Today, live JTAC training is conducted on a few specialized ranges with static targets. The training requires aircraft flight hours, range time, and live artillery, all of which are scarce resources. With AITT, the only element needed is the terrain—aircraft, targets, and effects can all be computer generated. The cost savings and increased availability of training will positively impact Marine Corps readiness.
In its current phase, AITT is concentrating on integrating with the Marine Corps’ Instrumented Tactical Engagement Simulation System (I-TESS II), currently being fielded to provide laser-based ground combat training.
“I’m envisioning that you could expand its use and have entire troop movements, tanks and other divisions all linked together to do a full exercise where every person involved would be able to get some level of training without the expense of having aircraft time, artillery, fuel, etc.,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Steve Bravo, a member of ONR’s Reserve Component who has been supporting the AITT testing.
The program will wrap up in in early fall 2015, at which point it will transition to the Marine Corps Systems Command and Marine Corps Program Manager for Training Systems for further testing and development. Once fielded, “This system will allow the Marines to go out to any location and turn it into a training range,” Squire said.
ONR followed up the demonstration with a Government Augmented Reality Working Group, which brought together representatives from each of the services and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to coordinate research.
To learn more about training systems like AITT, plan to attend the 2015 Naval Future Force Science and Technology EXPO to be held Feb. 4-5, 2015, in Washington, D.C.