Text/Photo: Eirik Helland Urke
The effect can best be described as sitting in a transparent vehicle.
Teknisk Ukeblad got to try out an early development version at the Rena test field with a prototype of Oculus Rift and the specially developed camera system.
With cameras positioned on both sides of the vehicle and the special glasses, the tank operators have a 360 degree view from the driver‘s seat, even with the hatches battened down.
It's the Hamar located firm Making View that is assisting the Norwegian Army‘s Combat Lab to develop the camera system and software.
What makes the Oculus Rift glasses special is that the view seamlessly follows your head movements. When the driver turns his head to the left, he looks straight out through the left camera.
By lowering his gaze he looks straight down on the vehicle belts, allowing the driver to "parallel park" with precision of up to a centimeter, without the assistance of the vehicle commander.
Oculus Rift is mostly thought of in connection with computer games, on account of its super realistic gaming experience. It‘s said to be one of the closest experiences we can get to "virtual reality" (VR) today.
Recently, the company was acquired by Facebook for a sum of £1,2 billion; this was before the first glasses were available on the open market.
Watch the video on TUTV: Norwegian army driving with Oculus Rift
Computer games have indeed helped inspire the new systems now being tested by the Army‘s Combat Lab at Rena.
“Those who play "Battlefield" do indeed have a better view than in an actual vehicle. However, with our software you can add the information and views you are used to from games: an overview map, spatial (geographical) orientation, tilt and speed,” says development manager, Daniel Mestervik at Making View.
For the Army, it is important to be able to input their upcoming Battlefield Management System (BMS), a new support system for actual tactical application.
It has proved to be difficult for personnel to utilize this system in a challenging and stressful conflict situation, hence the need to explore the possibilities of seeing and analyzing situations through the driver‘s eyes by the use of Augmented Reality (AR) with Oculus Rift.
This allows the vehicle drivers to see the various elements like own forces, weapons and minefields directly in the field, without having to take their eyes off the gun laying (aiming) to interpret the various information on separate screens.
It is the company Augmenti in Trondheim that is responsible for the AR information that the army is testing.
The Oculus Rift system allows the driver to navigate more independently according to the commander's instructions, instead of having to get more detailed driving instructions and operate with large blind spots.
Thus, the driver can increasingly drive autonomously, while the vehicle commander can focus more on the conflict situation.
Major Ola Petter Odden at Combat Lab is optimistic after the first practical tests in Rena.
“This is a very promising concept. We see that the glasses don‘t yet have the necessary screen resolution to see well at a distance, and they may cause some dizziness for the driver. But this, we believe, will be improved quickly,“ said Odden to TU.
The tests are conducted with commercial and inexpensive equipment, which will be released for general deployment in Norwegian armored vehicles. Combat Lab believes that the system can be made operational in five years time, which is very fast in a military context.
“I can foresee that the system will be technologically mature in maybe 2-3 years. Then we will need a qualification period for the equipment to ‘whopper’ and be ready for use in traffic. So maybe it will be ready in five years,” explained Ola Petter Odden.
He stresses that the eventual introduction of the technology to the Norwegian Army will depend on how well it will fit into the overall plans for material procurement.
Combat Lab is also postitive towards Facebook‘s aqcuisition of Oculus Rift.
“We think it is very beneficial because they will now have the necessary funding needed to take this further. At the same time we see that competing systems are surfacing, which makes us very optimistic about getting glasses that are good enough“, said Ola Petter Odden to TU.
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