GROUND-BREAKING: BAE boffins working on ‘mixed reality’

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Futuristic “mixed reality” systems designed to give Britain’s armed forces the edge are being developed by boffins at BAE Systems.

Engineers from the Military Air and Information division, at Warton, are working in collaboration with academics at the University of Birmingham to develop applications for ground-breaking technology.

The Portable Command Centre concept uses commercial technology to create a semi-virtual environment that can be transported in a briefcase and set up anywhere from within a tent to an office to tackle emergency scenarios such as an outbreak of fire or an act of terrorism.  'Users put on a virtual reality headset and interactive gloves – and a mixed reality control station appears around them. ' 'Users can monitor situations anywhere in the world, zooming in and manipulating environments, directing troops and pulling in virtual video screens that allow them to monitor news channels and feeds from UAVs.  'As well as this, users can bring in artificially intelligent avatars that monitor the entire environment, provide real-time voice updates and even offer advice when asked.

The Portable Command Centre concept uses commercial technology to create a semi-virtual environment that can be transported in a briefcase and set up anywhere from within a tent to an office to tackle emergency scenarios such as an outbreak of fire or an act of terrorism. 'Users put on a virtual reality headset and interactive gloves – and a mixed reality control station appears around them. ' 'Users can monitor situations anywhere in the world, zooming in and manipulating environments, directing troops and pulling in virtual video screens that allow them to monitor news channels and feeds from UAVs. 'As well as this, users can bring in artificially intelligent avatars that monitor the entire environment, provide real-time voice updates and even offer advice when asked.

It intelligently mixes together the real and virtual world to allow operators to take real-time control of their environments like never before.

The technology includes a briefcase sized portable command centre that can be easily deployed and set up anywhere.

It creates a “virtual” information-rich workspace, and a “wearable cockpit”.

This revolutionary concept called “mixed reality” allows the operator to see themselves and their surroundings along with virtual images, video feeds, objects and avatars, seamlessly bringing together the critical battlefield elements in a single place.

We’re already seeing virtual and augmented reality becoming more commonplace in consumer products, and the possibilities it offers the armed forces are hugely exciting.

Nick Colosimo

The technology is brought to life by a headset allowing military commanders to direct military operations, such as troops and unmanned air vehicles, across a virtual representation of the landscape for real situations or simply as part of a training solution. The technology is being developed at such a pace that the current demonstrator headsets could be replaced with something as small and light as a pair of spectacles within a decade and a contact lens within 20 years.

Nick Colosimo, futurist at BAE Systems, said: “We’re already seeing virtual and augmented reality becoming more commonplace in consumer products, and the possibilities it offers the armed forces are hugely exciting.

“Through collaborating with the University of Birmingham, we are able to bring together some of the best minds available in this subject area.”

Professor Bob Stone, of the University of Birmingham, said: “Being able to physically manipulate virtual objects in the real world has been challenging scientists for 40 years. Since my first virtual reality experience at NASA nearly 30 years ago, the technology has evolved from the primitive head-mounted displays and computers to today’s world where we can interact with complex virtual objects.