What We Must: Augmented Reality and the Military

Posted on

A long time ago, your friendly neighborhood author was a military man.


I enlisted in my country’s navy as a directionless, post-high school burn out, as the service gives a lot of benefits to those who volunteer. It seemed like a secure way to strike out on my own, and it beat the pants off working at Subway. I chose sonar technician as a profession, and then it was off to boot camp followed by my assignment to submarine school. Being that a sub is meant to go deep, deep underwater, we were specially trained in how to handle a flood situation in the event that the shell of the boat had been compromised. There was a special simulation room for the training, which had been rigged to flood with actual water so that trainees could solve the scenario. I was the head work officer for my team, and my job was to run around and coordinate the activities of my ship-saving crew, giving orders when needed. My job was also to relay information of the water level in the space to the communications officer, who was tasked with reporting to the control room, and who also had a big, deep, dopey voice. When the water got waist-deep, my team had finally had a breakthrough in containing the flood. I reported to the communications officer the level, but momentarily forgot the word “falling” and instead reported that it was “sinking” – which is not a good status to report about a boat. He relayed to the control room: “Water level at three feet. WE’RE SINKING!!!!!!”


For the rest of my time in training, I would not live this scenario down. Being in a flooding room is a tense situation. However, one of the possibilities of augmented reality and virtual reality tech is the ability to conduct military training scenarios: stressful and dangerous in real life, but provide a safe remove from hazard to allow people so that personnel can better learn crucial defense procedures.


One of the largest armed forces in the world, the United States Army, is making it their mission to technologically evolve so as to be ready for battle. In working together with the University of Southern California (USC)’s Institute for Creative Technologies, the US Army hopes to develop augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality technology to their training needs, which have typically taken place in facilities, but are now being prepared for implementation as needed anyplace in the world.



From experience, I can tell you that fear and stress are considered essential to the military training process. If you can’t handle it in a simulation, the thinking goes, then how are you expected to handle it in real life? However, Lt. Col. Warren Cook of the United States Marine Corps has said that more soldiers and Marines are killed in training than in combat. The Global Body Conference, held last fall by the aforementioned collaborators on the campus of USC, explored potential uses of AR, VR, and MR to not only help service members get accustomed to battlefield operations, but to keep them safe. Options such as wearable body sensors and drones were brought up as possible options, and the ability to map out unfamiliar terrain to find safety could have AR-involved solutions in the future.


Those who grew up on first-person shooters may be excited (and the rest of us, horrified) to know that other employments of AR and VR technologies can lend aspects of gamification to wartime scenarios. That’s right. Gamify. War. Think of the concept what you will, but it’s on the way – special headsets with so-called Tactical Augmented Reality displays have recently been unveiled by the US military. These headsets equip military personnel with second sight to identify threats, analyze the battlefield and enhance weapon aim.



Next Reality News points out that heads-up displays have been available for aviation personnels for ages, as Hollywood blockbusters have shown. It only makes sense that this equipment is now available to boots on the ground.


War is an ugly thing. As the world modernizes, however, new technology makes it possible for fewer soldiers to perish, for fewer families to grieve, and for less carnage and bloodshed where-ever battle must take place. Augmented reality seems ready to make it possible to train military personnel in such a way that it pushes that number further toward zero.


As for me, my only regret is that I wasn’t born 20 years later so that I could have taken advantage of this technology to avoid embarrassment.


Do you think this training is necessary and sufficient to keep your country’s fighting forces safe? Let us know in the comments below! And as always, thank you for reading.