When you think about the phrase “augmented reality,” perhaps you think of video games or science fiction movies. It’s a concept straight out of the future, but at the Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) Armament Center at Picatinny Arsenal, the future is now. Through the use of augmented reality assisted weapons, Army and Marine Corps programs hope to provide soldiers a new way of maintaining weapon systems.
“The use of augmented reality is going to enhance those products providing visual integration with a tactical system instead of having to go and reference separate system computer screens,” Joshua Zawislak, Project Lead of the CCDC Virtual Test & Training Environments, explained.
In learning to use this incredible technology for their acquisition research project, Zawislak’s team selected the M777A2 Howitzer. This particular weapons system was chosen for the project because models had already been developed for it in a 3D virtual trainer.
“Currently, complex weapon systems are maintained with paper manuals or digitized PDF manuals on a computer that are still on a screen,” Zawislak explained. “Some of the challenges with keeping these weapon systems up-to-date is maintaining information about different variants.”
This augmented reality technology, which has been fashioned into a pair of futuristic-looking glasses that the user can wear on-the-go, is expected to drastically improve the productivity of military operations. It is also intended to substantially decrease the associated risks that come with being in a war zone.
“Using augmented reality headsets, the user can have information provided through module windows, or highlighting of objects with text overlays, all through visual simulation,” Zawislak said.
Through various gestures, such as a pinching motion, users can select specific areas on a virtual schematic and highlight objects needing maintenance. Augmented reality technology also provides detailed videos and images associated with the object, along with a step-by-step diagram on how to complete the necessary functions, giving the user the ability to interact virtually with a component before working on it.
This concept of “augmented data” was largely inspired by BMW, Zawislak admitted. He spoke of BMW’s process for replacing a fan belt, and how the manufacturer’s use of this technology helped pave the way for maintenance on military equipment. Augmented reality technology has proven to be an instrumental tool in training new hands, as it allows users to fully map the repair process before actually dismantling any complicated equipment.
“The next step moving forward is looking at enhancing our requirements and developing a solid concept of operations for use of augmented reality for maintenance,” Zawislak stated.
System maintenance is not the only function this powerful tool is capable of, though. In the field, the headsets, using augmented reality technology, allow soldiers to view virtual maps and receive warnings of potential hazards in the area.
“We are looking to apply [the use of this emerging technology] to reduce the time of a repair, meaning that soldiers can have their systems available more in the field, keeping lethality at the maximum.”
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