There’s a Military Focus on Professional VR Training at DSEI 2021

DSEI 2021

The largest Defence, Simulation and Training conference descended on London (DSEI) and immersive technology specialist, Kevin Williams, took the time to traverse the massive convention space and return with observations on VR and AR impact in this sector.

DSEI 2021

The reality of VR in commercial training, simulation and education is often overlooked or side-lined. The enterprise or commercial aspect of VR has proven a very lucrative part of the technology’s deployment, with many consumer headset manufacturers pivoting from a consumer-centric focus to broadening their investment to include a commercial business focus.

What has been coined by me as the “Serious VR” landscape, comprising commercial applications using more powerful hardware and a focus on a core deliverable (such as training, marketing, or out-of-home entertainment). While the “Casual VR” scene is focused on consumer requirements and a price-sensitive, home gaming approach. 

The best example of Serious VR was amassed in London, with the holding of the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) 2021, covering all the ExCel exhibition centre, and even taking up the riverside births for presentations of the latest Naval craft. The show gathering more than 30,000 attendees from the international military services, and operations that support them.

DSEI 2021

Along with warfighting, the convention gathers security, medical, training and infrastructure elements, and the show floor proved a valuable litmus of the actual penetration of immersive technology into the aspects of the commercial scene. Previous DSEI attendance has seen a growing interest in VR, but this years’ shows a definite re-evaluation of the hype over the reality of the value of the technology. 

The first aspect of VR application on observation can be described as “Direct Training”.

One of the largest military providers, BAE Systems, used DSEI to launch their new SPA-TAC platform, a solution for sophisticated training, and mission rehearsal suite of tools, using virtual reality visualisation. These allow multiple user support and are deployed on the latest high-end VR hardware. On the booth, the company presented both the latest VRgineers XTAL professional headset, with its impressive field-of-view. Alongside the HTC Vive Pro series.  

DSEI 2021

Another developer at the defence event was VRAI – a specialist dedicated to combining VR and Artificial Intelligence (AI) towards providing enterprise and public service organisations remote training. The ability to use the latest VR technology to create a mobile training solution in the field driving many of the applications seen. On their booth the company had a flight training solution, employing the HP Reverb G2 headset. HP is one of those manufacturers that has seen the opportunity in commercial development support. And alongside this, was a Cleanbox Technology headset sanitizing system offering a much-needed hygienic approach to usage in this environment.

DSEI 2021

Across the way, on the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) stand was a demonstration of high-level immersion for training UK soldiers, employing the latest Varjo VR-3 professional VR headset. DASA is a government fund that invests in exploitable innovation for a safer future. The usage of VR in this application cutting the time for training, and offering better information retention by new recruits, with the control interfaces mapped to offer realistic weapon interaction.

DSEI 2021

The latest Varjo headset hardware was also seen on many other booths – the platform focused wholly on high-end commercial VR applications, offering an impressive performance beyond consumer headset specifications. The professional headset is deployed in automotive, aeronautical, CAD design and training. This marks a new phase of development in VR deployment, with the commercial sector at such as scale that it can support its own unique hardware development. On the Inzpire booth, the latest Varjo XR-3 was employed promoting its mixed reality capabilities.

DSEI 2021

The company had on one of their demonstrations a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) training platform, that was incredibly portable and rugged. Powered by two high-end PC’s the user could wear the VR headset and see the actual binoculars and physical controls, as the MR capability dropped the real-world imagery into the virtual environment through sophisticated tracking. This was a compelling demonstration of the versatility that VR training can bring, and the level of immersion was extremely high compared to consumer applications. Also promoting their portability of training simulation, the company showed a helicopter simulator, using both VR (from an HTC Vive Pro) and conventional screen, able to be broken down into a small case.

Simple to install and operate VR training aids were also on display at the Lockheed Martin booth, showcasing their Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) gunnery simulator. Employing in the VR configuration the Varjo headset and offering a means to be deployed anywhere for training units. Previously, this level of training would have depended on crude flatscreen alternatives, or expensive dedicated simulators, unable to be deployed in the field. VR applications beginning to be seen as a strong middle-ground alternative.

DSEI 2021

On the British Army stand was developers and solution providers QinetiQ – developing realistic training environments for mission rehearsal, and procedures. The company presented their latest environment for infantry training and army warfighting scenarios in urban conditions. Deploying the latest VR hardware with their setup of Varjo headsets. The level of visual realism and performance from their VR setup far surpassing anything comparable on consumer hardware.

DSEI 2021

The second aspect of VR application seen in this sector can be described as “Promotion and Visualisation”.

While there were seen some Standalone VR headsets, such as HTC Vive Focus, and an Oculus Quest 2 – these applications were more for promotional means, allowing visitors on booths a glimpse at simple information or applications. In previous years VR headsets on booths were ubiquitous, but now the focus was more on the high-end application, steering away from the casual approach.

DSEI 2021

Visualisation also saw the appearance of augmented reality (AR) on the show floor. To be more accurate the services have been employing AR in its basic form since the 1980s with the use of helmet-mounted optics supporting IR night vision or even heads-up telemetry displays. The latest AR technology has generated a lot of headlines in defence procurement, with Microsoft awarded a $22b deal to supply Hololens headsets in the evaluation of battlefield support for the US Army.

DSEI 2021

AR was represented at DSEI with the appearance of the Microsoft Hololens 2, being fielded on another part of the British Army booth, and with the developer of the application, Atos. The company is a world leader in digital transformation, providing cloud-based and information handling solutions. Their infrastructure used the Hololens to allow the user to have tactical awareness of the battlefield and deployment of resources, communicating with other users in real-time. Offering a demonstration of the future strategic planning aids that this technology represents.

Overall, the new trends on display at DSEI 2021 were clearly the explosion in investment into Unmanned Vehicles and Autonomous support – ranging from Naval based helicopter drones, and UAVs – with the first appearance of UAV land vehicles for support and casualty retrieval. Great advances in this sector are expected, and the use of augmented displays to track and direct these vehicles is expected to grow.

DSEI 2021

As mentioned previously, from the great hype and promise, VR has entered a more pragmatic phase in this industry. Its ubiquity replaced at this point, for a focus on more grounded high-end simulation, using the newly available high-end headsets. A new phase of development is about to take place, ejecting Serious VR into the next level of immersion.  

F-35 Pilot: The AR Helmet’s Field Of View Is Too Narrow

In an interview with aviation magazine Hush-Kit, an anonymous F-35 pilot complained about the field of view of the jet’s AR helmet.

The F-35 is a multi-decade project by the United States & its global military allies to replace legacy “workhorse” aircraft like the F-16, F/A-18, and Harrier with a high tech multi-role stealth fighter with three variants.

AR helmets have been added to some previous fighter jets in mid-life upgrades, but F-35 was designed with it in mind from the start. As well as overlaying icons for friendly & enemy vehicles, the helmet can fuse the input from the six high resolution infrared (IR) sensors embedded in the aircraft, allowing the pilot to look through the airframe, or see in IR at night. All for the low price of $400,000.

The F-35 is the first modern fighter jet without a physical heads-up-display (HUD) in front of the pilot – the helmet overlays a 360° virtual HUD instead.

But according to the anonymous pilot Hush-Kit interviewed, the helmet’s AR field of view isn’t as wide as it needs to be:

The technology of the helmet is great, but I’d take a HUD any day. It all comes down to physics – you can only shrink things so much before they start to become degraded, and HUDs have bigger optics than helmets…currently.

While the pilot doesn’t use the phrase field of view – most people still aren’t familiar with it – it’s obvious that’s what’s meant by “bigger optics”, and the same issue is mentioned again at the end of the interview:

The sheer amount of situational awareness I gain from this aircraft and its displays is like nothing I’ve experienced before. The off-boresight helmet is much more accurate than legacy JHMCS systems and I find it clearer to read (although I still want a wide-angle HUD for flight and fight-critical data!).

The narrow field of view is the main flaw with almost all augmented reality technology today. Tech giants & optics suppliers are investing billions of dollars in the aim of inventing new optical & display technologies to overcome this, but there’s no clear answer yet.

Collins Aerospace, the contractor for the helmet, lists the field of view on its website as 30°x40°. That’s roughly the same as Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 and Magic Leap One.

augmented reality hololens 2 field of view

Theoretically, it’s already possible to get a wider field of view in a helmet form factor. Leap Motion’s helmet-sized Project North Star platform claims a 100 degree field of view. Keep in mind though the F-35’s helmet must be able to operate continuously in almost any environment, including under heavy g-forces and even after the aircraft takes some damage. Technologies deployed in the military also need to go through years of verification.

Still, if a $400,000 helmet can’t achieve a wide field of view, this might suggest the consumer AR glasses we all want are much further out than some of the hype suggests.

NASA Use Microsoft HoloLens for Assembling New Spacecraft

When building something that needs to take human beings into space, getting it right first time is completely vital. This is very challenging when building a completely unique device, something which has never been built before. Lockheed Martin engineers working on building the latest NASA spacecraft have turned to the HoloLens mixed reality (MR) headset in an attempt to improve the process.

Previously, aerospace organisation including Boeing and Airbus have used complex manuals to try and convey instructions to workers. These manuals can run to over a thousand pages, and difficult to consult during the construction process. Lockheed Martin are using MR and augmented reality (AR) to help engineers do their jobs more efficiently.

One spacecraft technician, Decker Jory explained about his use of the HoloLens for working on the Orion spacecraft, the craft meant to be mounted on the NASA Space Launch System, the successor to the Space Shuttle program: “At the start of the day, I put on the device to get accustomed to what we will be doing in the morning.”

The headset lets workers see holograms images which shows models of parts and labels overlaid on already assembled pieces of the spacecraft. Information such as torquing instructions can be displayed right on top of the areas where they are relevant.

The virtual models are even colour-coded to the role of the person using the headset. For Jory and his team, who are in the process of creating a heat shield for the Orion, the technology takes the place of a 1,500-page instruction manual.

Lockheed Martin is expanding its use of AR after seeing positive results during testing. Technicians using the technology need much less time to become familiar with a new tasks and to perform new processes.

The company says someday it hopes to be able to use AR/MR technology in space, to help astronauts maintain the technology.

For future coverage on AR and MR use by NASA and other firms and organisations, keep checking back with VRFocus.

Life In 360°: Ready For War Or Peace

On Wednesday we took to the skies with Lockheed Martin for Life In 360° thanks to some aerial photography inside an F-16 Fighting Falcon.  That however was then. Today we’re sticking with flight, but are slightly more concerned with the landing aspect. Normally this is relatively straightforward – the ground is the ground, a factor rather important when you’re testing new machinery. It is, after all, good to have a constant.

Lockheed Martin - LogoSo, what if the ground wasn’t stationary. What if it too was moving?

Today’s video follows the activities of an F-35 Lightning II, again being put through its paces by Lockheed Martin.  This time however the 360 degree camera is not in the cockpit, nor even in or on the jet itself. Instead it’s attached to an observation platform, one on the jet’s designated landing site: the USS America.

“The F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant is the world’s first supersonic STOVL stealth aircraft.” Explains Lockheed Martin on their website. “It is designed to operate from austere bases and a range of air-capable ships near front-line combat zones. It can also take off and land conventionally from longer runways on major bases. The U.S. Marine Corps’ F-35B aircraft reached initial operational capability (IOC) on July 31, 2015, and as of January 2017, a squadron of F-35Bs is permanently based at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.”

The fourth historically and current USS America on the other hand is an 844 ft ‘assault ship’, of a design also called ‘America’. Which can carry up to 20 F-35B Lightning strike fighters as well as helicopter gunships.

Check out the video below.




Life In 360°: Aerial Photography

Regular readers of this series will recall that there was a time here on VRFocus where we seemingly couldn’t go a week without there being on Life In 360° a 360 degree video involving flight in some way. We were either part of a display team, or in the cockpit of a commercial airliner. Riding in a jet fighter or being strapped to a rocket.  There was always something, and we always seemed to find it on our search. Whatever it actually was.

Lockheed MartinWednesday’s video comes from the team at Lockheed Martin.  The global security and aerospace company has made a few sporadic appearances on VRFocus down the years but the majority have been through their involvement in immersive technology software. Many of you will likely remember award-winning augmented reality (AR) experience The Field Trip To Mars, which the firm were behind.  They were also in the news last month when it was revealed Lockheed Martin are using AR to speed up spacecraft manufacturing.

Today though we’re focusing on their military connections to get a “Sky High View” with this 360 degree video from an F-16.

“Go behind the scenes with our aerial photographer to get a 360-degree view from the back of an F-16 Fighting Falcon, capturing the flight of two F-35A Lightning IIs.”

You can watch the video tomorrow.  On Friday we’ve actually got another 360 degree video from the same team, but this one isn’t all about the air.


VR Experience “The Field Trip To Mars” Wins AICP’s Best In Show

Field Trip To Mars, a VR Experience by Lockheed Martin, has won The AICP Next Awards’ Best in Show distinction, and the Most Next Award. Lockheed Martin’s experience was produced by Framestore for McCann New York. As the winner of the Most Next honor, Lockheed Martin chose which educational institution receives a $5,000 USD grant from the AICP Foundation. They chose the Washington D.C faction of Girls Inc.

This isn’t the first time Field Trip To Mars has garnered attention – at Cannes 2016 it was the single most awarded campaign.

The Unreal Engine 4 powered demo features a VR schoolbus which literally takes its guests on a field trip of a lifetime through alien worlds.

The unique experience has guests climb aboard the bus, which is fitted with 3D surround sound speakers and special monitors for windows. The bus drives around in real life, but displays a unique alien landscape through the windows. It does this with a mix of GPS and laser sensor technology, making for a truly unique experience.

The windows are no ordinary monitors either – they can become either opaque or transparent, transforming the bus from a Martian mission to something a bit more terrestrial almost instantly.

Claude Dareau, Senior Developer of The Field Trip to Mars, has said; “We get the kids on the bus, the screens go dark, Mars pops up and they go crazy. Just seeing their reaction was incredible.” Dareau continued; “I definitely felt emotional when I saw that.”

For more on new and unique experiences like The Field Trip To Mars, keep an eye on VRFocus.

Lockheed Martin Releases Prepar3D v4 Enhancing VR Support

Global security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin has recently updated its flagship simulation and training software solution Prepar3D to version four, adding improvements to performance, a fully redesigned user interface and virtual reality (VR) enhancements. 

Utilising 64-bit architecture to deliver realistic visuals the new version of Prepar3D features major visual upgrades including, a new realistic lighting system, 3D weather capabilities, 40 high-detail cities and more than 24,900 airports across the globe. For this edition Lockheed includes 21 new default vehicles such as the Lockheed Martin F-35A, F-22 Raptor, MH-60 Black Hawk, Fury 1500, Beechcraft Baron 58 and the Neptune Submersible to name a few.

Prepar3D v4 fury

In terms of the improved VR support Prepar3D features updated native support for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive

“Training meets reality with Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D® simulation software, and v4 provides unprecedented realism,” said Sandy Samuel, vice president, Training and Simulation Solutions in a statement. “While initially the premier tool for training both commercial and military aviators, Prepar3D has grown to drive simulation for almost any vehicle in the air, at sea, underwater or even in the depths of space.”

“We are thrilled for Prepar3D v4 to be fully converted to 64-bit so users can take advantage of the full power of modern systems,” says Adam Breed Prepar3D engineering project manager. “This release pushes the boundaries of what’s possible in courseware training and experiences, including vast improvements to performance, graphical fidelity, and the number of entities that can be concurrently simulated in global-scale scenarios.”

For the full changelog of feature updates head to the Prepar3D website for more info. As for any further updates keep reading VRFocus.