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NEWS | Jan. 31, 2017

Carderock, Microsoft, Johns Hopkins Representatives Meet to Discuss Augmented Reality Opportunities

By Dustin Q. Diaz, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division Public Affairs

Members of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division's Disruptive Technology Laboratory (DTL) met with representatives from Microsoft and Johns Hopkins University to discuss collaboration on naval applications for augmented reality technology Jan. 13.

Garry Shields, DTL director, talked about how they can work together to bring new uses for Microsoft's HoloLens all-in-one, augmented reality face-mounted computer for the Navy and Marine Corps.

"What we are trying to do is pull partners -- the warfare centers, the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Energy, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy -- into a common project to demonstrate multiple interfaces for platforms and simulations on a common system, potentially using the HoloLens," Shields said.

David Marra, a member of the Microsoft HoloLens group, told the DTL members about the development of HoloLens, and Microsoft's commitment to innovation through the "More Personal Computing" strategy. He explained the difference between virtual reality and mixed reality, referencing the HoloLens device's unique components, from sophisticated sensors which understand the user's environment to translucent displays.

"We're committed to this platform," Marra said. "With HoloLens and Windows Holographic, we are fundamentally evolving the personal computing paradigm."

Shields explained the DTL's role in fostering innovation for the Navy. As one of Carderock's "innovation engines," the members of the DTL work with members of other warfare centers, government agencies, private industry, and academia to incubate new ideas, develop them, and bring them as mature technologies to the fleet.

"We democratize innovation and make sure everyone has a voice and their ideas are treated the same," Shields said. "We build networks to bridge gaps between funding sources and organizations at the beginning. We find ideas, we find who finds value in the ideas, and they'll pick it up. When I deal with the private sector, it's a matter of showing them what the market is for their ideas. Through this vessel, they get a reach to all these other organizations. We do a lot of stuff out here very cheaply, very efficiently, to demonstrate capabilities. There's no overhead in this organization, but we've delivered roughly $120 million of direct funding for projects."

The DTL members and their partners in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and the Department of Energy recently created the largest object ever additively manufactured by the Department of Defense. The Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator (OMTD) Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) Test Article is a 30-foot-long, proof-of-concept hull print modeled after the Mark 8 Mod 1 SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV). It provided a platform for engineers at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) to create a digital interface in HoloLens that can control or simulate control of the vehicle.

"When you touch a key on your cell phone -- '3' for example -- the phone goes in and manipulates the actual hardware function that is the number three," said Harry Whittaker, DTL member. "Using the HoloLens headset with this simulator, we've created software that works in a similar way, allowing us to flip switches and move sliders on the heads-up display to impact the physical controls of the device. We partnered with APL, who saw the value in continuing this, and we have demonstrated it to other organizations who see the value in it. This not only works on the trainer, but we've also been able to use it for basic control functions on the actual mechanical systems (the previous OMTD device) NOMAD (Non-Penetrating Optionally Manned Demonstrator)."

Whittaker said they were able to demonstrate the simulation software on HoloLens for the Microsoft representatives and showed them the BAAM Test Article, currently on display at Carderock's headquarters in West Bethesda, Maryland.

Shields said this concept of using augmented reality on ships and in ship's systems for physical and cognitive augmentation is the natural result of work which started years ago in the DTL when they began working with exoskeletons. He envisions a new paradigm in ship design called the human-centric ship, where the primary role of humans aboard ship is decision making. Hardware controls like the HoloLens simulator, which could replace physical control stations on bridges of ships by making access to controls available throughout the ship via the device, comprise this physical augmentation, but Shields has ideas for cognitive augmentation, too. Both could be facilitated through the uniform with intelligent textile technology, which could be used to monitor biometrics in Sailors, and accessed with gear like HoloLens.

"We took the perspective that the uniform is the most important interface of the ship's system now that you can embed it with sensors, communication and power," Shields said. "Now that you have knowledge systems like augmented reality that can give you a heads-up display in the uniform, it creates the possibility of things like situational awareness of the location, health, and performance status of all the humans on the ship, provided they are wearing that uniform. You could access a historical database of the training status of your Sailors, or access all their knowledge, or how to carry out certain tasks. A future Sailor might be able to train with augmented reality from the day they enter boot camp, and all they would have to do is register to the ship and log in to interface with all the ship's systems."

Whittaker said the DTL is currently working with Mike Alban, a naval architect with Carderock's Center for Innovation in Ship Design, to design the next version of the Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator, which will include additional capabilities and systems that can be controlled via HoloLens in another interface developed by APL. They are collaborating on sharing gear and information with other members of the Navy Augmented Reality Consortium and also assisted with a Naval Innovative Science and Engineering/Section 219 proposal to explore augmented reality applications aboard naval platforms. The proposal received funding and work on that is planned to begin in February, according to Whittaker.