The Royal Australian Air Force is exploring the potential of augmented reality as the organisation undertakes the largest technological upgrade in its history.
The Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group (part of the Department of Defence) and Saab Australia, demonstrated a 3D visualisation application developed for Microsoft HoloLens to 50 key Air Force and Defence personnel towards the end of last year.
Chief of Air Force, Air Marshall Leo Davies, trying the technology for the first time, indicated a growing role for augmented reality vision (ARV) tech in the Air Force.
“How we communicate, visualise and explore problems and ultimately reach solutions will be heavily influenced by technology such as ARV,” he said.
Following the demo at Defence headquarters in Canberra, DST Group scientist Kevin McDonald said the technology could shape the Air Force's response to threats.
“Augmented reality technology is evolving and this demonstration aims to increase awareness and interest in how ARV can be adapted and used for future Defence applications – either for planning or training,” he said.
“Specifically the scenario and simulations explored today show the utility this technology can have on our decision making models and behaviour in certain situations, and how they can shape and aid our responses to threats.”
Augmented in Adelaide
Saab Australia is one of just two defence companies globally working to develop applications in the ARV field, specifically for Microsoft’s mixed-reality HoloLens platform.
It was one of a small number of businesses selected by Microsoft to participate in its HoloLens Enterprise Acceleration Program at the beginning of last year and began working with RAAF in February.
Saab has since established a HoloLens Applications Studio and Centre of Excellence at its Adelaide headquarters and is exploring its use in other industries such as health, emergency services, infrastructure and the resources sectors, the company said. It added there was particular potential in long distance education.
“In the training environment, it allows both trainers and trainees to share a visually rich interactive experience where the real world can be overlaid with digital imagery and information in the form of holograms,” said Saab’s mixed reality applications program head, Inger Lawes.
“This technology is transformational and we have had significant interest from a diverse range of industries keen to understand how mixed-reality can add value to their businesses,” Lawes added.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella namechecked Saab Defence in his visit to Sydney last year, calling the developments “amazing”.
“When you take what is your computer vision or your own field of view and convert it into an infinite display, you completely change what computing looks like. It's the ultimate computer,” he said.
The RAAF’s exploration of ARV’s uses comes as part of its technological transformation project, Plan Jericho.
“The future could be stated as either limitless, or limited by your imagination,” said Plan Jericho director, Group Captain Pete Mitchell. “ARV is a rapidly emerging technology with possible applications in fields as diverse and far ranging as medical science, research, chemistry, training, education and remote industry application – to name just a few possibilities.
“It is our job to explore the possibilities ARV can afford Air Force and this demonstration is one step in examining this potential. As ARV applications become more commercial and mainstream we expect this potential to grow exponentially.”
The Australian army is also keen to explore the potential of augmented reality. Writing in a blog last year titled The New Reality: How augmented, virtual and mixed reality will enhance the future soldier Captain Robert Morris of the Royal Corps of Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers said the technology might allow a technician to work on a wider range of the military diverse fleet of vehicles with less training, and could be used by a storeman to operate in an unfamiliar environment where there is little time to become familiar with the layout of a warehouse.
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