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I/ITSEC 2016: UK sees bright future for mixed-reality

28th November 2016 - 16:54 by Grant Turnbull in Orlando

I/ITSEC 2016: UK sees bright future for mixed-reality

Whether it’s in the air, on the ground, or at sea, the use of simulators has become the norm for militaries across the world, but one of the realism challenges that remains is how to recreate the harsh conditions often faced by personnel on operations.

British company Close Air Solutions – which develops realistic joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) simulators – is moving forward with work it’s calling the Hyper Real Immersion Project, a ‘mixed-reality’ project that might go some way to addressing this. 

Using augmented reality and off-the-shelf head-mounted displays, the project aims to take the soldier out of a warm ‘sterile’ classroom, and into the real-world environment where factors such as weather and physical exhaustion play a much greater role.

‘You can have a very immersive simulator, and that’s what we pride ourselves on doing, but you know you’re still in a simulator, you’re in the dry and warm,’ said Tom Ball, technical director and co-founder of Close Air Solutions.

‘The next step is to take it outside and be in the real environment, be wet and cold,’ he added.

Once soldiers are out of the classroom, the technology will give greater realism to real-world training areas, where ‘targets’ can often be unrealistic ISO containers or old tank hulls. The technology being developed by CAS means that vehicles, people and buildings can be inserted into the real-world scene.

‘We are making it so that instead of going to a sterile training area and attacking a rusty tank that you’ve seen before, there will actually be an army coming across the area, coming towards you, that you can have synthetic effects on,’ said Ball.

‘In an ideal world you shouldn’t know what is real and what isn’t,’ he said.

Several head-mounted displays – or goggles – are being assessed, including ‘Google-glass’-type transparent technology and also ‘opaque displays’, which display a camera feed image rather than being see-through. The latter technology is seen as more suited, as transparent technology can have issues with brightness and contrast. 

The company was awarded a year-long Phase 2 contract from the UK Ministry of Defence’s Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE) this year, which will see the technology progress from TRL 3 to TRL 6. 

Previous CDE funding saw CAS provide a ‘proof of concept’ of the technology, which culminated earlier this year in a demonstration on Salisbury Plain Training Area that showed a tethered user in the field directing virtual aircraft and effects onto synthetic hostile targets.

Phase 2 work has involved highly-detailed mapping of RAF Spadeadam training area, which is required for an accurate terrain database. This terrain is not seen by the trainee, but allows the simulated entities to behave as though they are interacting with the real-world environment.

Orientation and position of the user is also key, with CAS developing a solution that combines data sources from GPS, IMU and IR marker-based vision system. As part of Phase 2, the company hopes to move to a marker-less tracking system to decrease infrastructure requirements.

Main trials are likely to take place in April next year and Phase 2 will wrap up in May. Beyond Phase 2, CAS are looking at additional funding and a ‘Phase 3’ that will enable the prototype to reach a full product stage.

CAS see potential opportunities not just for JTAC/JFO training but also other applications, including infantry training as well as commercial entertainment and gaming.

The company already supplies the UK MoD with its Immersive Close Air Support Simulator (iCASS). The Joint Forward Air Control Training and Standardisation Unit (JFACTSU) acquired the iCASS system for its Forward Air Control Training requirement at RAF Leeming in 2014. 

For more from I/ITSEC 2016, see our dedicated news page.

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