Emerging Tech

You Could Virtually Hover Over a Battlefield With Oculus

Attendees play a video game wearing Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets at the Intel booth at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Attendees play a video game wearing Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets at the Intel booth at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. // Jae C. Hong/AP File Photo

The virtual reality tool Oculus, a wow-producing technology recently acquired by Facebook, has the potential to transform entertainment, social networking -- and warfighting, some defense contractors say.

"It's your terrain," said A.J. Clark, president of Thermopylae Sciences + Technology, which makes mapping software for Google Glass and other wearable technology.  "It's your environment. The stuff that we try to bring in is related to the where are your airplanes flying around? Let’s visualize that. Where are your ground forces moving around? Where are the threats to you?"

This week, his company demonstrated the technology to Pentagon officials at the GEOINT 2014 Symposium in Tampa. T-Sciences does not have any Defense Department customers working with Oculus Rift yet.

Since the headgear is not wireless, data security would not be much of an issue, Clark said. 

"It’s really just another peripheral device, such as a new TV that you plug in” to display imagery on, he said. "There’s human-machine interaction components to it, and then there’s display components to it, all of which we've worked to secure." 

Early uses for the system might include training simulations, which for years have been aided by gaming technology, and real-world mission support. 

On the battlefield, the system would feed live data from defense networks into the headgear.

A service member would be "floating over the battle space, seeing all the information that's been extracted from all the other existing systems,” and the technology is “letting the user interact and experience them in whole news way" with an eye to better mission control and tactical positioning, "because they could be there, as it were, virtually,” said T-Sciences Chief Innovation Officer John-Isaac Clark, who is A.J.'s brother.

Facebook in March bought Oculus VR, maker of the $350 headset, for $2 billion. At the time, Facebook officials said they want to extend the uses of what could become "the most social platform ever," into communications, media, entertainment, education and other areas. 

The military currently is experimenting with other computerized headwear, including Google Glass. But it's not the same as the Oculus experience, A.J. said.

"Glass is about direct interaction with the real world," he said. "Oculus is about interacting with potentially the real world but in a virtual setting. You’re walking through the real world.  You’re not going to walk around with Oculus on, or you'll walk into a wall." 

Correction: An earlier version of this story said T-Sciences does not have any Defense Department customers. This story has been updated to clarify the company does not have Defense customers working with Oculus Rift yet.

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