8 curious ways military forces use video game applications

Military tech –
1) Project BlueShark –

Project BlueShark_oculus_rift

What might look like a scene from the movie ‘Battleship‘, is actually a tiny slice of the so-named Project BlueShark, an Office of Naval Research (ONR) initiative for a futuristic technological scope of military communication and collaboration. And, as we can make out from the image, one of the naval officers is using Oculus Rift for (presumably) navigational control of a ship or marine craft. This however, is no ordinary version of the Head Mounted Display. ONR’s specially ‘hacked’ Oculus Rift comes with its set of LEDs that account for more precise positioning data – by virtue of variant frequency tracking by the room’s camera systems.

Furthermore, the researchers working for Project BlueShark, are also looking forth to develop more advanced HMDs, like Fakespace Labs Wide5, that can allow a more immersive as well as expansive 140 degrees field of view (imagine the pilot of a drone seeing his natural vision, instead of a fixed angle of vision). But beyond just technological flair, there is a more practical side to the whole affair, and that entails cost effectiveness. In conventional scenarios, the navy has to build detailed replicas of control rooms and other ship-oriented spaces in order to train new sailors. But HMDs like Oculus Rift eschews the need for such costly physical constructions – instead the systems can create far-intricate virtual environments that the recruits can easily access and interact with via cheap controlboard-knock offs made of plexiglass and plastic.

2) HEL MD Laser Cannon –


The United States Army has collaborated with Boeing’s defense and security division on developing a Directed Energy Weapon (DEW) that is capable of emitting a highly focused beam of energy. For all intents and purposes, it is big laser cannon, and its christening rather suggests that with a bad-ass name of High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator (HEL MD). But the hip part is not only about shooting lasers, it also entails something more ‘video gamey’ – the entire contraption can operated with the help of the familiar Xbox controller. This is how it works – while one of the men drives the truck (along which the HEL MD is mounted), the other person sits snugly with his laptop and an Xbox controller. This simple connected system is used to lock on to targets, and presumably take them out.

According to the engineers, the HEL MD has the capacity to emanate a 10-kilowatt energy laser from the mobile vehicle – which is enough to take out incoming missiles and mortar shells. However, the Boeing scientists are looking forth to develop an even potent version that could fire up 50 to 60-kilowatt laser that can easily dismantle (or at least disperse) high-range missiles and UAVs.

3) VR feed for Tank Drivers –

Norwegian Army_tank_oculus_rift

One of the major predicaments of a tank driver pertains to the narrow vision available to him when the top hatch is closed (the movie ‘Lebanon‘ aptly portrays this constrained viewing system from inside the tank). Fortuitously, the Norwegian Army’s Combat Lab has come up with a nifty solution that solves the viewing problem with the use of Oculus Rift. Getting feed from two (inconspicuous) cameras mounted on each side of the tank, the Oculus Rift HMD allows the driver to effectively see through the tank with even the hatch being closed. As a matter of fact, the hacked Rift allows for 360 degrees views which accounts for even parallel parking of the tank, with a precision of up to a centimeter! Check the video of the setup in action, here.

4) Small Unmanned Ground Vehicles –


In an odd turn of events, some photos taken in 2007 revealed that the US army used Xbox 360 controllers (or at least a very similar game controller) for maneuvering their Small Unmanned Ground Vehicles or SUGVs in real combat scenarios. According to various sources, the SUGVs are a part of the US Army’s ‘Future Combat Systems initiative’, since these bantam robotic devices account for far more accessibility to dangerous points, which greatly aids in achieving various mission objectives beyond enemy lines. As for the use of Xbox 360 controller – it does make some sense, given the potential familiarity of the console joystick for many young soldiers who might have grown up in a gaming culture.

Watch the VIRTSIM demonstration –

Watch the Dismounted Soldier Training System trailers –

Watch the Project Blueshark Oculus Rift in action –

UPDATE: The US military is also utilizing Rover, a Kinect-based video game for training dog handlers.

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