The interactive displays of the future as visualized in Steven Spielberg's science fiction classic Minority Report, as well as the augmented reality interfaces used by millionaire playboy Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, are now closer to becoming reality in the military realm.
Last week, BAE Systems unveiled a next-generation combat operations system developed as part of a roughly $25.5 million contract for the British Royal Navy for use on its battleships.
The system uses the Microsoft HoloLens to display data in the field of view of the Officers of the Watch, the crew charged with monitoring the ship's safety. The officer can view information typically anchored to traditional displays in the operations room, such as the location of other vessels in the fleet, from any position on the ship.
"These technologies have the potential to transform maritime warfare and greatly increase the situational awareness and efficiency of crews on board Royal Navy ships," said Frank Cotton, head of technology for combat systems at BAE Systems, in a statement. "Our combat systems expertise and investment in future technologies will ensure we continue to deliver innovative capabilities to navies."
But BAE Systems isn't just selling the military on augmented reality, it's also a client. The company has deployed the HoloLens for employee training.
Military technology has long been the incubator for commercial technologies, and augmented reality, born through heads-up displays for pilots such as the Striker II from BAE, is no exception.
AR is now coming full circle, with the commercially-available HoloLens finding a home with the Royal British Navy as well as the Royal Australian Air Force. The US Army is also looking to fulfill a a need for AR headsets, with Microsoft, Magic Leap, and others reportedly in pursuit of the contract.
Why would any organization doing actual work want to use the power of 3D spatial computing to put 2D panels everywhere? And why would they make all of the panels transparent so that they are distracting and hard to read? And why do mixed reality headset makers pretend their solutions work without headsets? Why not display actual technology showing its full capabilities? This seems like an ad campaign dreamed up by people who have never seen, used, or thought about best practices for their own products. We can do better.
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