Virtual reality has been the hot topic as of late and is the focus for February’s SmartReality Tech of the Month. Technology that used to be a product of fictional movies is making its way into the real world. Scientists at Applied Research Associates (ARA) have been collaborating with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the past six years creating a virtual reality system named ARC4 for the military. Currently, they are in the process of transitioning this military software to the civilian sector, but what is it going to take to make that happen?
ARC4 administers real-time information to soldiers about their surroundings including buildings, people, and landscape that is out of view or obstructed. This technology is very important on the battlefield. ARC4 is not the first augmented reality product as we have all heard of Google Glass. But what makes ARC4 different? This virtual reality headset has the ability to keep up with a person’s field of vision in real time, so their view is constantly up to date.
Dave Roberts, the Military Operations and Sensing Systems leader at ARA explains, “If the lag between a user’s head movements and the layer of information overlaid on their vision is too long, the system becomes difficult to use—imagine turning your head and the icon that labeled a building didn’t update until a few seconds later, leaving a building icon floating in the middle of a field.”
To make ARC4 capable in the commercial world, the software needs to be coupled with an adept hardware. According to Jenn Carter, senior scientist at ARA, “Hardware needs to catch up with what we’ve done”, and finding hardware compatible with ARC4 is difficult. However, considering the novelty and innovative characteristic of augmented reality, ARC4 developers need to limit their restrictions for hardware because they do not have many options.
Paul Travers, CEO of a hardware company that has developed displays with DARPA, said, “The software and the hardware aren’t really being made by many companies. If there’s a piece of hardware that does the job, there’s not really a choice—you have to try to use it.”
Difficulty finding a compatible hardware may be the roadblock in integrating ARC4 software with the commercial world. Currently the team is working on how augmented reality can improve the lives of workers in need of situational awareness, such as emergency workers, firefighters and construction workers.
“It’s great for coordination of rescue operations,” says Carter. “You can see where people are even if your view is obstructed.”
In addition to safety measures, virtual reality in the construction industry can assist workers in others areas of development such as planning and designing. Virtual reality sets up a platform for endless possibilities, and with these new wearable technologies, the future appears limitless.