Virtual reality: The future of defence training during COVID times

Published: June 1, 2020 12:24 PM

From trainee fighter pilots to medical applications for Medical trainees, VR allows candidates to undertake virtual simulated practice in order to gain real-world experience.

Indian armed forces, armed forces during pandemic, army training during coronavirus, coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, virtual reality in Armed forces, augmented reality, VR, AR, How is Virtual Reality achieved, VR/AR in Defence TrainingVR and AR are the new methods of how humans interface with digital technologies.

By Swati Sharma

Virtual Reality (VR) is the latest buzzword in the world of technology, a three dimensional (3D) computer-generated world that is as good as the real by putting on a head-mounted display. The display typically splits the image between the left and right eyes, creating a stereoscopic 3D effect with stereo sound and immersive experience, allowing a person to visualise a virtual world being generated by the computer. A VR makes a person feel like he is within the scenario physically and, further, with the movement of the head, the world also turns.

VR is bringing an efficient learning experience at an affordable price by providing virtually a ‘real world’ feel of a situation. From real estate to Military to healthcare, VR learning is formally being introduced since the science of VR has been found to enhance knowledge retention during learning. With the smartphone in the hands of the general public, the VR popularity gained momentum for various applications. Today, a stage has been reached where VR related ground-breaking technology (including Augmented Reality or AR) are essentially being used for important aspects like Health and Safety, Life-saving training, Medical field, apart from providing only entertainment.

What is Virtual Reality?

The very definition of VR comes from the terms ‘virtual’ and ‘reality’. The definition of ‘virtual’ is ‘as simulated’ by computer and ‘reality’ is what we experience as humans. Therefore, the term ‘virtual reality’ can be also defined as ‘near-reality’. In everyday life, we perceive the world around us through our primary and secondary sensors. This sensory information is processed by our brain to present a rich flow of information from the environment to our brains. Hence, when our senses are fed with similar synthetic information, human perception of reality also changes in response to it. VR presents a version of reality that isn’t really there, but from our perspective, it would be perceived as real. And this is what makes up the core of the VR realm.

How is Virtual Reality achieved?

Today VR is implemented using computer technology, along with a range of systems such as headsets, special gloves etc. These are used to actually stimulate our senses together in order to create the illusion of reality to give us an immersive experience. Humans have nearly 180-degree vision and we are unconsciously aware of peripheral vision. Whenever eyes and the vestibular system (sensory system in the ear that is responsible for providing our brain with information about motion, head position, and spatial orientation) are in conflict, it can cause motion sickness. A good implementation of VR manages to get the combination of hardware, software and sensory synchronicity rightly balanced to achieve a ‘sense of presence’ i.e. one really feels like they are present in that environment.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented Reality is a technology that combines VR with reality (as an overlay). The cameras and sensors gather information about the environment where the AR content needs to be overlaid and a computer vision system interprets this information. It determines how to integrate virtual objects in a real-world environment and finally, a Digital Display streams the AR content for the user. AR is already popular in Snapchat lenses and Pokemon GO.

VR/AR in Defence Training

VR and AR are the new methods of how humans interface with digital technologies. Immersive films and video games are the primary beneficiaries of VR. The entertainment is a multi-billion dollar industry and is ever keen to develop novelty to enrich the experience of the audiences. However, VR has applications which too have evolved in Medicine, Sports, Architecture and more importantly in the Education sector.

AR technology has been applied in many fields, including Tourism, Archaeology, Art, Commerce, Manufacturing industry etc. Further, Education, Emergency Management, entertainment and medical fields too have used AR. For example, in the field of tourism, the application of AR technology at tourist attractions can restore historical sites by using mobile phone cameras, screen software and other technological means to integrate with the real scenes.

Wherever it is too dangerous, expensive or practically not viable to do something in actual, the VR is the solution. Armed Forces have specialised Training Institutions spread all over India. In today’s pandemic world, it is not possible to shift soldiers to various Training Institutions. From trainee fighter pilots to medical applications for Medical trainees, VR allows candidates to undertake virtual simulated practice in order to gain real-world experience. For warships, a Navigation system can use AR to superimpose a Navigation Chart over the live view from the Bridge. The fighter pilots while airborne can already see an AR projection of their altitude, speed and other critical instrumentation data on specialised helmet visor, saving crucial time of having to glance down at the gauges.

A scenario of combat could be created, which changes as the soldier moves around his environment (which corresponds with the change in their field of vision). In the field areas, Indian Army can use AR to give the soldiers an improved Situational Awareness by using an eyepiece that helps soldiers precisely locate their positions as well as that of others (including hostile target position). Further, a 360-degree camera mounted on a drone can enter into a building to give an all-encompassing view of the building layout inside so that the Special Forces outside the building can make an effective entry to carry out hostage rescue and neutralize the terrorists. With VR and AR not anymore being a future technology, its time that Defence Services focus on these for resource optimisation and enhance the training in lines with evolving Cyberworld.

(The author works extensively on AI and VR projects. Views expressed are personal.)

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