Virtual Reality Applications for the Military and Homeland Security
By James R. Lint
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Military University
Contributor, In Homeland Security
The recent DevLearn2016 conference in Las Vegas showcased new technology for academics. This technology could enhance and foster creative methods for teaching and learning.
Among the exhibitors was SilVR Thread. This Los Angeles-based company exhibited its live-action, stereoscopic proprietary camera system that replicates natural human vision. Virtual reality (VR) can “capture…the human experience in full 360 degrees, including the point of view of the subject’s body,” the company website says.
Downhill Ski Demonstration Shows Potential of Virtual Reality
Wearing SilVR Thread-distributed virtual reality goggles, conference attendees experienced downhill skiing in virtual reality. The idea was to create believers in the capabilities of virtual reality for civilian and military uses.
SilVR Thread is a VR pioneer in proprietary technology and builds a physical presence into first-person VR experiences. Think of VR as a movie in which the viewer is at the center of the action.
Virtual Reality Prerequisites Include Multiple Cameras
In addition to headsets, creating a VR experience requires multiple specialized cameras that record 360 degrees of an experience, such as skiing. At the same time, the camera operator must avoid anything that gets in the way of the many camera lenses.
“We see our unique POV VR technology as a powerful tool for learning and training,” said David Pritchard, co-founder of SilVR Thread. “We have built technology that lets you virtually see through someone else’s eyes and be in their body. This has huge applications for learning hard skills including mechanical, medical, etc.”
“It also has big benefits for soft skills training including leadership, communication and conflict resolution. Likewise, our ability to let viewers understand another person’s perspective is a proven way to increase empathy,” Pritchard said.
Virtual Reality Is a Boon to Inexpensive, Sustained-Cost Training
The U.S. military has a history of looking for sustained, low-cost training methods.
In the 1990s, the Department of Defense hoped to save money on ammunition costs during M-16 rifle training through a device called the Weaponeer. Trainees were able to inexpensively practice for range qualifications or with simulated live-firing scenarios without live ammunition. In addition, the trainees received immediate feedback as to their accuracy.
Other cost-savings technology included the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System, MILES. This system might be considered the forerunner of laser tag games.
The first-person VR experience is also an excellent resource for training purposes. For example, VR is cheaper and safer than using live-fire ammunition.
“We allow the viewer the freedom to look around and have full situational awareness during their training,” Pritchard said. “We can help trainees run through various scenarios as well as provide robust reporting so trainers and trainees alike can learn from mistakes and be better prepared before going into the field.”
Virtual Reality Simulation of Battlefield Conditions
During pre-deployment training, for example, a group of soldiers wearing VR goggles could experience what happens when a vehicle hits an improvised explosive device (IED). A medic in the group could learn how to move the injured for treatment, while infantry could scan the attack area and move outward to form a 360-degree defensive position against further attacks.
With virtual reality, it’s possible to realistically simulate many real-life combat events without loss of life or injury.
A Possible New Technique in Prisoner Interrogation?
After consulting with legal staff, military interrogators might use a virtual reality headset on a prisoner to increase the effectiveness of intelligence gathering. Using virtual reality to simulate the effects of multiple IED bombings might instill empathy in an enemy prisoner. He might be more willing to talk when he sees the damage his actions created.
This use of virtual reality should not be construed as torture, unlike sleep deprivation or any previously banned interrogation techniques against enemy combatants.
EMT Training and Other Potential Uses for Virtual Reality
The virtual reality experience can also be a teaching tool for training emergency medical technicians in assisting a heart attack or traffic accident victim. Virtual reality could greatly expand the experience of physicians dealing with mass casualty incidents, such as highway crashes. With virtual reality training, no one dies from a wrong diagnosis.
Limitless Potential for Virtual Reality in Future
There is also a push in academia to use virtual reality to teach empathy.
“We are entering an era that is unprecedented in human history, where you can transform the self and [you can] experience anything the animator can fathom,” says Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, in a Wired magazine article published last year.
Bailenson’s team is running a research project called “Empathy at Scale.” The research of teaching empathy may have a payoff for military intelligence interrogations and could save lives on the battlefield.
The potential of virtual reality is endless. Its potential applications are limited only by the imagination of programmers, the military, EMTs and Homeland Security trainers.
About the Author
James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. He is an adjunct professor at AMU. James has been involved cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service.
Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded the 43th scholarship for national security students and professionals. James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and also served 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba in addition to numerous CONUS locations. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” and a new book in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea.”