3 Ways the Oculus Rift Could Change the Military

The company's upcoming virtual reality headset may arguably be the future of gaming, but could it also be the future of the military?

by / May 2, 2014

It’s garnered a truckload of consumer media buzz recently because developers claim it’s the most sophisticated augmented reality headset in development so far. Company literature plays up the stereoscopic 3D view that presents unique, parallel three-dimensional images for each eye the same way our eyes perceive images in the real world. The imagery spans approximately 100 degrees, stretching beyond a person’s peripheral view.

The consumer gaming community probably won’t be able to enjoy the Rift until at least later this year, but gamers aren’t the only ones interested. Facebook bought Oculus VR earlier this year for $2 billion, presumably to enhance the social networking experience beyond instant messaging and random status updates.

But around the world, the military’s already adapted the technology for training and intelligence purposes, indicating that the Rift’s reach will extend to the highest levels of government.

Here are three places where trainees are using the headset to hone their skills:

  1. The Norwegian Army is testing the Rift’s application in tank driving scenarios. M-113 drivers navigated using Rift goggles that were connected to image processing software and external cameras that captured tank surroundings. Thanks to the set-up’s situational awareness, vehicle operators could maneuver independently without needing verbal commands. Testers experienced some dizziness and noticed that the goggles lacked screen resolution to see well at distances, but they believe these bugs can be fixed in time.
  2. The United States Navy is using the Rift in a similar fashion to train sailors in Project Blue Shark. Future war fighters could drive or repair ships with three-dimensional awareness while communicating with others in real time thousands of miles away.
  3. It’s no secret that the American military is all about drones these days, and the private sector’s experimentation with the Rift could enhance the drones’ functionality. According to Digital Trends, many camera-equipped unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) need two people to operate: one to drive the drone, and one to control the camera. Norwegian researches, however, figured out a way to equip a drone with two cameras that forwarded images to the Rift and moved based on the headset wearer’s head movements. The process is still in its early stages, but refinements could lead to a wave of VR-enabled and controlled drones. 
If the military’s zeal for Rift deployment matches the gaming community’s and Facebook’s, augmented reality goggles will likely change the world in a few years. Facebook’s billion-dollar funding acquisition will give developers enough money to fine-tune the technology for myriad uses.
Hilton Collins

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.