DAHLGREN, Va. –
In the 1990s, the gaming world predicted that virtual reality would be widespread by 1994. Although this prediction might have been slightly premature, the last few years have truly brought a shift in the ubiquity of this new technology. Mostly associated with commercialized products in this day and age, virtual reality (VR) has applications within the military’s top projects and programs including the Battle Management System (BMS) at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren Division.
“BMS is consistently trying to innovate and figure out what kinds of technologies they can bring into the main line portfolio,” explained BMS metrology and augmented reality/virtual reality project lead Mike Weisman. The rapid onset of commercially available headsets in the recent consumer market has created a wider avenue for maturation, stability, and predictability. “Generally, when we use VR, we look at it within three different types of applications: engineering, training, and tactical purposes.”
In the engineering application of VR, Weisman and his team go to different locations, scan the environments, and use the data to create a digital twin, or virtual recreation, of the area. The result is shortened timeline from the original idea to a delivered product.
“Using VR, people can put on a headset, walk around the design and see how it would actually fit in the space, creating an immersive, 3D representation. It enhances the speed and accuracy of our designer as they create things,” said Weisman.
As the team began to integrate the program, the program sponsor saw a unique opportunity to implement the program for operator training. Weisman and his team created and delivered the 30-millimeter virtual gun trainer, which allows operators repetition on the system that was not as easily accessible in the past.
“Now an operator can, at a reduced cost, get in there and have a full one-to-one scaling. They can walk around a full pallet. If they need to look underneath something, they have to bend down. Their bodies learn this muscle memory of where everything is,” explained Weisman. “This repetition makes [the system] second nature to them as the actual hardware. By doing repetition, it becomes engrained.”
A big emphasis is that the virtual trainer is not designed to replace the training, but rather help someone who needs extra time on the system. The third application of the system falls in the tactical range. Instead of creating a 3D model out of sand, the team created a virtual sand table that allows for easier post mission analysis.
“The virtual sand table makes it very easy for someone to understand what happened in a digestible way,” said Weisman. To show how the system would work in operation, the team tied the virtual sand table into boat and air traffic over and through the Potomac River Test Range at Dahlgren, as well as into the base camera system. “We have aggregate data sources coming in from different places to show visually, but we’ve also got a framework on the backend where we can pull all this data in and display it simply together.”
The development aspect of BMS plays an important role when it comes to post mission analysis. Because the data is timestamped, it can be fused with the corresponding time, which allows for flexibility and insight after a mission.
“BMS has a lot of data, whether it’s from test events, models or semantics,” said Dahlgren Division computer scientist Brandon Gipson, a specialist in the backend development of the application. “Putting into VR extracts it in a way where it’s not just ones and zeros, but you can actually see an inflight path of an aircraft or drone during a test event.”
With access to the wide range of data input from BMS, the team also is able to visualize everything they have collected information on during a scenario, including the state of sensors on the platform, the measured wind direction, wind temperature, and visual tracks.
During a recent visit at NSWC Dahlgren Division, Deputy for Test and Evaluation Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Rick Quade experienced the tactical sand table firsthand. Although mostly in development, the applications for VR in BMS are growing exponentially.
“The tactical application gives us a good workspace to try out a lot of things and figure out what works or doesn’t work,” said Weisman.