Virtual reality and its military utility

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DOI: 10.1007/s12652-011-0052-4
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Abstract
Virtual reality (VR) is rapidly emerging as a new area of multidisciplinary research. During the last couple of years, its scope has increased beyond academic research, and industry is found making significant investments in this field both for the research as well as for the manufacture of the development of various VR-based products. Various industrial sectors such as information technology, biomedical engineering, structural designing and training aids technology sector are investing into this technology. Military industry which always remains into lookout for new ideas is slowly emerging as one of the major investors into VR. This essay presents an assessment about the relevance of VR for the militaries.
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ORIGINAL RESEARCH
Virtual reality and its military utility
Ajey Lele
Received: 28 January 2011 / Accepted: 7 April 2011
Springer-Verlag 2011
Abstract Virtual reality (VR) is rapidly emerging as a
new area of multidisciplinary research. During the last
couple of years, its scope has increased beyond academic
research, and industry is found making significant invest-
ments in this field both for the research as well as for the
manufacture of the development of various VR-based
products. Various industrial sectors such as information
technology, biomedical engineering, structural designing
and training aids technology sector are investing into this
technology. Military industry which always remains into
lookout for new ideas is slowly emerging as one of the
major investors into VR. This essay presents an assessment
about the relevance of VR for the militaries.
Keywords Virtual reality (VR) Real world
Virtual world Simulators Military Warfare
1 Introduction
Virtual reality (VR) is a centuries old notion. But, in
yesteryears it was not articulated in the fashion the way it
is done in the present era. Many generations back, the
Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 B.C.) had offered a
perspective to the then rulers with regard to political
decision making. He had urged them to take the political
decisions strictly on the basis of certain knowledge and
not on intuition. To explain his argument, he had pre-
sented a metaphor in form of ‘trapped prisoners in cave’.
This formulation presents a view that the people who
have spent their lives in cave chained, start believing the
‘shadows’ which they see in dark as real. Plato wanted
political class to separate shadows from substance.
Probably, Plato could be viewed as propounding the
concept analogous to virtual reality in those times. It
could be debatable whether he announced or renounced
the concept of virtual reality; however, he was definitely
instrumental in highlighting the visible manifestation of
‘alternative’ reality.
Over the years, the concept of virtual reality has evolved
significantly. In particular, the important developments
taking place in the field of information technology sector
has revolutionized the turf of virtual reality significantly.
Presently, virtual reality applications are finding utilities in
various fields of life from computer sciences to mechanical
engineering to biomedical engineering to medicine to
architecture. Armed forces too are identifying various VR-
based applications for their utilization. It appears that this
technology is likely to find more utility for the armed
forces in years to come. This paper attempts to analyze the
efficacy of this technology for the security architectures of
the states.
2 The idea of virtual reality
Like many other scientific discoveries, VR has its roots in
science fiction novels and essays. The first experience of
VR could be said to have come in 1962 with the creation of
machine called Sensorama which essentially was game
giving the player an experience of riding a motorcycle on
A. Lele (&)
Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses,
No. 1 Rao Tula Ram Marg, New Delhi 110010, India
e-mail: ajey.lele@gmail.com
123
J Ambient Intell Human Comput
DOI 10.1007/s12652-011-0052-4
the streets.
1
This was developed by Morton Heilig who was
a cinematographer by profession. His goal was to encom-
pass all five senses into one virtual experience. Since, then
VR has made its presence felt mainly in the entertainment
arena particularly for developing video games and movies.
Presently, the field of VR is growing much beyond the
entertainment industry and covers a broad spectrum of ideas in
the overall technology domain. Perhaps, the involving nature
of this technology is making it difficult to define the VR in
exact terms. It is tough to find the standard definition for the
VR in the literature. However, there appears to be some
common understanding about what VR is all about, the dif-
ferent is found only in semantics from author to author. The
term VR was coined by Jaron Lanier the founder of VPL
Research in the US,
2
one of the original business house selling
virtual reality systems. The term was defined as ‘‘a computer
generated, interactive, three-dimensional environment in
which a person is immersed (Aukstakalnis and Blatner 1992)’’.
Simplistically, VR is an artificial environment created
using information technology tools (both hardware and
software) and presented to the user in such a way that it
appears and feels like any real environment. It is important
to note that the virtual world is interactive which makes the
user completely immerse him/herself in an artificial world
away from the real surroundings. To experience virtual
reality, the individual needs to use two of its five senses:
sight and sound. To experience/sense mostly the three
dimensional images devices such as frequency modulators,
mouse, joysticks, earphones, special gloves, head mounted
display, and goggles are used. All these devices work on
inputs from a computer system.
3
It is important to note that mostly it is not been possible
to generate an exact copy of the real world. There would
always be some form of a difference between real and
virtual world. Therefore, the fundamental differences exist
between the real and the virtual world. A job which is
actually simple turns out to be very difficult in a VR
environment both from the point of view of designing and
execution.
A simple act of holding a ball in two hands is much
complicated in virtual world. In reality, a ball is kept hold
off with two hands, the position of the hands is determined
by the surface of the ball and control of the ball is provided
by the haptic (haptics =touch =connection) and the
visual senses of the human. In a virtual environment, where
no haptic feedback is provided, the control of the ball must
exclusively be accomplished by the visual system. There
are several aspects which make it much more difficult to
control the ball in the virtual environment than in reality.
Hence, the user needs to be trained to work in a atmosphere
in which he/she is not really holding a ball (in fact he/she is
not holding anything), he/she has to position his/her real
hands according to the visual movement of the reproduc-
tion of his hands. This causes a completely different
stimulation of user’s muscles than with a real ball (no
weight and no counterforces from the ball). Also, the
positional quality of the reproduction of both the ball and
the hands in most cases is not perfect
4
(Fig. 1).
The entertainment industry which uses the techniques of
VR routinely is trying to improvise the existing concept of
VR. The idea of 4D and VR has its importance more for the
entertainment industry. The term ‘‘4D’’ denotes the fourth
Fig. 1 Holding a ball with two virtual hands; the opaque hands show
the positions of the virtual hands, the wireframe hands show the
positions of the user’s real hands. They are, in contrast to the virtual
hands, able to penetrate the ball. (Source: Please refer footnote No 4)
1
The Sensorama was a machine that is one of the earliest known
examples of immersive, multi-sensory/multimodal technology. Mor-
ton Heilig, in the 1950s saw theater as an activity that could
encompass all the senses in an effective manner, thus drawing the
viewer into the onscreen activity. He dubbed it ‘‘Experience Theater’’,
and detailed his vision of multi-sensory theater in his 1955 paper
entitled ‘‘The Cinema of the Future’’. In 1962, he built a prototype of
his vision, dubbed the Sensorama, along with five short films to be
displayed in it. Predating digital computing, the Sensorama was a
mechanical device, which still functions today. The Sensorama was
able to display stereoscopic three-dimensional images in a wide-angle
view, provide body tilting, supply stereo sound, and also had tracks
for wind and aromas to be triggered during the film. Unfortunately,
Heilig was unable to obtain financial backing for his visions and
patents, and the Sensorama work was halted and today remains
primarily a curiosity in the expansive lore of VR. The details are
available at Rheingold (1992).
2
The term VR was popularized by him in early 1980s. He started a
project on ‘‘post-symbolic’’ visual programming language and
subsequently stared his company VPL Research which incidentally
filed for bankruptcy in 1990. The acquisition of VPL Research’s
patent portfolio was done by Sun Microsystems’ in February 1998.
3
http://searchcio-midmarket.techtarget.com/sDefinition/0,,sid183_
gci213303,00.html and http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/M/MO
.html. Accessed 12 Sep 2010.
4
Leonhard Vogelmeier, Harald Neujahr and Dr. Peter Sandl,
‘Interaction methods for virtual reality applications’’, available at
http://ftp.rta.nato.int/public//PubFullText/RTO/MP/RTO-MP-HFM-
136///MP-HFM-136-14.pdf. Accessed 12 Nov 2010
A. Lele
123
dimension.
5
This concept need not necessarily involve any
major role for computer software but includes more of
physical effects. Here the spectators wear 3D glasses and as
per the demand of the particular scene theaters are designed
to shake, spray water, introduce smells and even spray air
at audience to generate different effects.
There are few other ideas in practice which fabricates
the reality. Augmented reality (AR) is one such idea which
is about live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world
environment. Here the elements of reality augmented by
virtual computer generated sensory input such as sound or
graphics. If virtual reality is a complete immersion in a
digital world, AR is more a digital overlay onto the real
world. It augments the real world with digital data making
it more exciting than a completely fictitious environment.
An AR example could be witnessing the world around us
as seen through our phone’s camera juxtaposed with other
inputs like place information based on GPS (Schonfeld
2011). Another much discussed concept in this domain is
that of Mediated Reality. Here the view of reality is
modified by a computer intern enhancing one’s current
perception of reality.
6
Another similar notion is a mixed
reality (MR). It is a kind of VR but a broader concept than
AR, which augments the real world with synthetic elec-
tronic data. On the opposite side, there is a term, aug-
mented virtuality (AV), which enhances the virtual
environment (VE) with data from the real world. MR
covers a continuum from AR to AV Tamura et al. (2001).
Presently, the literature and various ongoing debates on
the subject of VR, the views of the scientists working in this
field and the general perceptions demonstrate that VR
encompass large and at times diverse field of ideas and
technologies including both teleoperator and virtual envi-
ronment systems.
7
At places, people use the terminologies
such as virtual reality,virtual environment, telerobotics,
augmented reality, and synthetic environments synony-
mously. It is important to note that since this field of research
is still emerging and has an element of multidisciplinary
approach on occasion, every new idea instead of becoming a
subset of the VR field is getting projected as a new field of
development. May be at a theoretical level, such distribution
is essential for better understanding but at times at the
practical level it becomes tricky to discuss the technological
progression as a separate entity particularly when there is an
overlap of ideas with regards to various categories.
VR is one technology which is expected to have a wider
military applicability and a universal security appeal. This
technology has the potential to influence the future of
global industry in general and military industry in partic-
ular. Presently, the research and development in the VR
arena is at varying levels of attainment in different parts of
the world. The accomplishments of this technology are yet
to be proven but many analysts envisage that this tech-
nology could bring in revolution with significant break-
throughs in the near future.
Figure 2shows a simplistic depiction of the concept of
VR.
3 Military efficacy of VR
It is a known fact that technology is extremely important
for military effectiveness for any nation-state. Induction of
new and emerging technologies promises a qualitatively
superior military force capable of addressing both con-
ventional as well as asymmetric threats. The military
concepts like the revolution in military affairs (RMA) are
dynamic in nature and deal with introduction of techno-
logical and doctrinal changes in the armed forces. Recent
revolution in the information and communication tech-
nology (ITC) sector has brought in induction of various
new RMA technologies in the militaries. Modern day
armies are found inducting offshoots of various advance-
ments in technologies such as nanotechnology, biotech-
nology, robotics, cognitive sciences, and few others into
their scheme. Military technologies are also found using
various computer simulations of systems enabling them to
perform operations on the simulated system and demon-
strating the effects in real time.
3.1 Simulator technology
Training is one area where VR technologies are finding
wider applicability in the militaries. The reasons that have
driven the military to explore and employ VR techniques in
their training are basically to reduce exposure to hazards
and to increase stealth (Herrero and de Antonio 2005).
Simulation of reality is essential for the militaries for a
simple reason that there cannot be ‘on job training’ as far as
warfare is concerned. At times, it also becomes extremely
difficult to demonstrate to the military personal the real-life
mental and physical challenges of military life. Under such
circumstances, the need arises to fugue the reality in some
form or other. This is where the VR applications specially
designed for the military could play a major role.
5
http://www.ehow.com/about_4798680_difference-between-d-virtual-
reality.html. Accessed 10 Jan 2011.
6
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mediated_reality. Accessed 21 Nov
2010.
7
For all such systems, the basic components are a human operator, a
machine, and a human–machine interface linking the human operator
to the machine. In case of a teleoperator system, the machine is an
electromechanical tool containing sensors and actuators (telerobot)
that efficiently expand the operator’s sensorimotor system and thereby
allow him/her to sense and manipulate the real environment in new
ways. In a virtual environment system, the machine is an appropri-
ately programmed computer. Please refer Durlach and Mavor (1995)
Virtual reality and its military utility
123
One important aspect of VR-based simulation is that it
offers a space to undertake various risky and tricky
maneuvers which are difficult to perform in real life on the
real equipment. VR makes it possible to simulate an
equipment malfunction or bad weather or any unexpected
scenario (Molloy 2009). All this becomes possible without
causing any damage either to humans or to instruments. VR
helps to train pilots to handle emergencies.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the year
2003 came out with an important report titled ‘‘Virtual
Reality: State of Military Research and Applications in
Member Countries’’. It has been identified that the ‘‘key to
the effectiveness of virtual reality for military purpose is
the man–machine interface or human–computer interac-
tion. Military personnel must be able to perform their tasks
and missions using VR sensory display devices and
response devices. These devices must display an environ-
ment that provides the appropriate cues and responses
needed to learn and perform military tasks. Human factors
issues include: determining the perceptual capabilities and
limitations of sensory display devices; designing terrain
data bases and other displays to meet task performance
needs; understanding the human and task performance
compromises required by current technologies; evaluating
transfer of training and knowledge from the virtual to the
real world; and considering the causes and solutions to
simulator sickness that can occur in virtual reality’’. The
report identifies basic military applications involving VR
as the systems capable of helping to model the weapon
systems and to evaluate and test such systems. Also, it has
been highlighted that the VR is useful in developing
training and learning applications and can play a role to
help in mission planning and rehearsal.
8
Simulators used for flight training could be viewed as
one of the early employment of the VR technology. During
late 1920’s and 1930’s, the Link Company (Binghamton,
New York) had built flight trainers and many pilots were
trained there before and during World War II. Basically,
these simulators were used for giving training on the night
flying skills. With the maturing of television and video
camera technologies, the simulator designers were able to
produce a view of the outside world during 1950s.
9
Since,
then various useful technological developments are
enhancing the simulator technology further and further.
The advent of electromechanical analog computer brought
in some changes in the simulator designing. However,
during the 1950’s and early 1960’s, the requirements with
regard to the motion and visual systems were not resolved
Fig. 2 Concept of VR
8
A NATO report titled ‘‘Virtual Reality: State of Military Research
and Applications in Member Countries’’, RTO TECHNICAL
REPORT 18, St. Joseph Print Group Inc. St. Joseph Print Group
Inc. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 2003.
9
http://www.hitl.washington.edu/scivw/EVE/II.G.Military.html.
A. Lele
123
totally with the available technology. The arrival of digital
computing brightened the chances of real-time digital
simulation during 1960s. It also improved the flexibility,
repeatability of the system and helped to bring in
standardization.
10
For any simulator, the basic requirement is that every
instrument must function identically to their real-world
matching components/parts. During the last few decades,
the major revolution taking place in the informational
technology and communicational sciences allows the
modern day VR-assisted systems to interface the user to a
computer and to undertake various 3D visual tasks and
carryout real-time interaction. The usefulness of any VR
system comes from the quality of its main feature—the
immersion. It is this ability of the VR system which allows
the user to become a part of the simulated world which is
extremely essential to bridge the gap between virtual and
real.
3.2 Imperative element of air power
The role of VR in the military domain grows beyond
simple flight simulator. Here many times, more than one
trainee operates in the virtual world demanding more
sophisticated environment often called as advanced syn-
thetic environments (ADS) (Wong 2010). It becomes
essential to create air warfare simulation with high levels of
realism. For this purpose, it becomes necessary to integrate
computer models, simulated scenarios, and various
behavioral models, flying platform and weapon system
simulators, and other essential war fighting systems. Such
synthetic environment could constitute of standalone sys-
tems or a network of networks.
Presently, the US Air Force is found investing into such
distributed mission training (DMT) capabilities (Lok
2001). Overall, the use of VR offers an alternative to
advance tactical flying training as well as helps to develop
doctrines and tactics. This also allows the evaluation of
operational plans. In years to come, the simulated training
is likely to assume more importance for a simple reason
that it is cost effective and avoids the loss to human lives.
VR technology is expected to reduce the actual flying
efforts at least to a certain extent because it offers most
cost-effective method for training pilots. Also, lessening in
the actual flying activities would play some role toward
managing the damages to the environment.
Apart from the US Air Force, various other air forces are
using such techniques. They have developed concepts that
use virtual air environment (VAE). The Royal Australian
Air Force (RAAF) along with their Defence Science and
Technology (DSTO) has developed the Advanced Dis-
tributed Simulation concept. The various concepts devel-
oped involving VR and associated simulation techniques
have been put in use for the operational training by the
RAAF particularly by their Surveillance and Control
Groups (Jon Blacklock and Zalcman 2003). Simulator
centres have also been created by the French and German
Air Forces. Also, the four nations Eurofighter project have
established the Eurofighter Aircrew Synthetic Training
Aids (ASTA).
11
This system is rated as one of the best
systems in Europe providing leading edge, high fidelity and
360field of view training. During April 2009, the first
ASTA simulator for the Eurofighter Typhoon was made
operational for the Italian Air Force.
12
For other air forces
such as the Israeli Air Force and in states like Netherlands,
the systems are in place for such training activities (Lok
2001). The simulator training has not remained restricted to
the training in transport and fighter aircrafts but also covers
areas like the unmanned flying machines, e.g., a new Israeli
air force squadron dedicated to delivering simulation-based
training to helicopter pilots and unmanned air vehicle
operators was made operational during the year 2010.
13
Defence industry is using the VR technology even for
the purposes of manufacturing. Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. a
subsidiary of United Technologies Corp. during January
2011 unveiled a state-of-the-art virtual reality center for the
CH-53K heavy lift helicopter programme. This innovative
tool helps identify gaps in a three-dimensional digital
environment prior to experimental assembly. This allows
cost savings and greater efficiency and helps minimize
delays in final assembly of the aircraft. The purpose is to
enhance the designer’s ability to design an aircraft that is
easier to maintain.
14
Mostly, amongst the developing
nations most of which do not have their own aircraft
industry the simulator training is given by the original
equipment manufacturers (OEM).
States like China have developed their own simulator
infrastructure. In China, the research and development
work related to VR began in the early 1990s. Presently,
various universities and scientific establishment are found
involved in the development of this technology. In defence
area, the work is undertaken at the National University of
10
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/bleep/SimHist8.html. Accessed 28
Jul 2010.
11
For more details please visit http://www.eurofighter.com/media/
news0/news-detail/article/aircrew-synthetic-training-aids-asta.html
and http://www.eurofighter.com/media/news0/news-detail/article/
training-days.html. Accessed 23 Dec 2010.
12
http://www.eurofighter.com/media/news0/news-detail/article/the-
first-asta-simulator-for-the-eurofighter-typhoon-operational.html.
Accessed 04 Oct 2010.
13
http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2010/10/04/348060/israel-
opens-helicopter-uav-simulator-unit.html. Accessed 20 Oct 2010.
14
http://www.defencetalk.com/sikorsky-virtual-reality-for-ch-53k-
helicopter-31398/#ixzz1ECGOf1TH. Accessed 12 Jan 2011.
Virtual reality and its military utility
123
Defence Technology. Here military technologists are
working on projects including distributed virtual reality,
behavior modeling, image-based modeling and rendering
(IBMR) tools, simulation of dynamic ocean waves, and
collision detection (Pan et al. 2000). As per the experts,
Chinese army (PLA) services use a range of simulators for
a variety of training objectives. They make their own
individual or crew simulators for ballistic and cruise mis-
siles, 4th gen fighters, trainers, submarines, ships, main
battle tanks, other armored vehicles, trucks, long range and
shoulder launched Surface to Air Missiles (SAM), shooting
and individual soldier combat decision training. However,
not much is known about the density of simulator distri-
bution. It is expected that the PLA will be networking
various simulators to enable command level and individual
combat level mission simulation, even could be joint force
simulation on the eve of actual missions.
15
Particularly, for teaching intricate tasks such as flying it
is very important to develop the sense of presence in the
training aids to make the learning experience engaging and
relevant. It is important for the trainees to experience
thoughts, emotions and behaviors similar to those they
could experience in a real-life situation. The sense of
presence in the training situation also helps in analysing the
problems post-training.
16
To enhance the training for
controllers and fire observers for the purpose of coordi-
nating airstrikes for close air support combat operations,
VR techniques have significant utility. Also, the VR-based
simulator systems offer a video with the photo-realistic
imagery of the actual range area overlaid on terrain ele-
vation data with three-dimensional enhancements of
buildings and vegetation. The virtual pilot gets the ability
to identify troops and vehicles on the ground using onboard
sensors.
17
3.3 Maritime applications
Apart from aviation, VR is also used for making simulators
for ground vehicles and vehicles operating in water. Such
simulators come under various categories from single
vehicle to a system facilitating complex training missions
involving multiple participants acting in various roles.
Specific devices are available for army which train soldiers
to drive specialized vehicles like tanks or the heavily
armored vehicle. It is also possible to conduct training by
replicating treacherous weather conditions or difficult ter-
rain including urban combat environment. Also, networked
simulators have been designed to allow users to participate
in complex war games. The technical requirements for the
simulators for the Navy are slightly different. For sub-
marine simulators, there is no need to have windows to the
outside world and hence the realistic requirement of
‘environment’ and ‘terrain’ does not have much of signif-
icance. What is important is to provide realistic instrument
readings as the crew navigates through the simulation.
However, it is also important to create a sense of immer-
sion as far as possible by physically simulating a diving or
surfacing maneuver (Strickland 2011).
Search and rescue (SAR) is an important element of any
ship disaster management system. Specialized training is
must for the personal before getting employed in the SAR
department. VR has got utility with regard to training for
such purposes. Such systems are synthesized simulation
systems and they integrate various simulators together such
as: ship handling simulator, engine room simulator, etc.
The system creates a virtual environment with strong
immersion effect and provides a realistic simulation system
with better environmental realism, physical realism, and
behavioral realism (Yin et al. 2010).
3.4 Engineering designing
Apart from simulator training, the VR and its allied bran-
ches have utility in various other areas directly or indirectly
associated with the armed forces. Engineering designing is
one such area. The applicability of VR could be wide
ranging from the defence industry to local level workshops
in various military establishments. VR could assist the
process of development of prototypes for various equip-
ments. VR/AR has wider applicability with regard to the
manufacturing, maintenance and repair of various military
equipments. For addressing issues related to new or unfa-
miliar piece of equipment instead of opening several repair
manuals simply an augmented reality display could come
handy. VR systems have proved their utility for consumer
designs.
18
The military’s growing interest in virtual reality tech-
nology is mainly from cost and safety perspective. It is
cost-effective to test conceptual designs with regard to
weapon systems or maintenance platforms using VR
technology.
19
The technology allows testing the design
without building a physical prototype. This saves time with
15
In conversation with Richard D Fisher Jr. a US based expert on
China and author of book China’s Military Modernization (Praeger
Security International, London, 2008).
16
For more on this please refer Ch11by Fabrizia Mantovani and
Gianluca Castelnuovo, ‘‘Sense of Presence in Virtual Training:
Enhancing Skills Acquisition and Transfer of Knowledge through
Learning Experience in Virtual Environments’’ in Riva et al. (2003).
17
http://www.usafe.af.mil/news/story_print.asp?id=123168023.
Accessed 12 Jan 2011.
18
http://www.se.rit.edu/*jrv/research/ar/introduction.html. Acces-
sed 10 Feb 2011.
19
http://www.designnews.com/article/7775-Military_Broadens_
Use_of_Virtual_Reality.php.
A. Lele
123
regard to development of technology. Battlefield visuali-
zation is one more area where VR helps improving army
systems. Battlefield visualization is not only a key element
in the training regimen but is also vital for determining
combat strategies in real time. For VR systems, now it is
possible for the military officials to explore a three-
dimensional model of an area by viewing it from any angle
while formulating strategies and looking for potential
logistical problems (Strickland 2010).
3.5 Medical applicability
VR has a major applicability in the field of medicine too,
particularly in the arenas of image guided surgery. VR
techniques are becoming more attractive in the modern day
medical science. Techniques like the computerized
tomography and magnetic resonance imaging (CT/MRI)
scans could be viewed as most commonly used VR tech-
niques in medicine. A MRI scan creates the images of a
body structure based on a technique using magnetic field.
This technique is extremely useful for the purposes of
disease dictation. A computerized axial tomography com-
monly known as CT/CAT scan uses multiple X-ray images
to create a cross-sectional/three-dimensional view of the
portion of the body and helps in disease diction.
For many years, the technique of X-rays has been the
major component of medical imaging. The advent of the
computer has brought in a revolution in the field of medical
imaging. During the last couple of years, imaging tech-
niques have grown significantly in their sophistication and
can now provide the doctors with high quality three-
dimensional images depicting not only the normal anatomy
and pathology, but also the vascularity and function. One
key factor in the advances in image-guided surgery (IGS) is
the ability not only to register images derived from the
various imaging modalities amongst themselves, but also to
register them to the patient. The other crucial aspect of IGS
is the ability to track instruments in real time during the
procedure, and to portray them as part of a realistic model
of the operative volume. Stereoscopic and virtual-reality
techniques can usefully enhance the visualization process
(Peters 2000). Such techniques have major utility in spinal
and orthopedic applications too. From the armed forces
point of view where the energy is mostly critical and dif-
ferent form ordinary accidents (battlefield injuries and
damages close to the human body are different than the
normal cases), such techniques are very useful.
Haptic technology is increasingly finding utility in the
field of medication. This technology using interfaces with
computers to produce the sense of touch by applying dif-
ferent forces. ‘‘These forces can make virtual images/
reality seem real to the touch. The interfaces allow some-
body to touch, feel, stimulate, and alter dimensional-
objects in the virtual realm. Telerobotics is a big area using
haptic systems. Telesurgery is when a surgeon is not
present in the room, and can do the surgery from the virtual
realm (Boduch 2010).’’ The uses of VR techniques for
medicine have major utility for hospitals both in the
civilian and military domain. Particularly, the techniques
like the telesurgery could be handy in case of forward bases
for the armed forces where minimal medical facilities are
available.
VR technology also has utility for a variety of psycho-
social interventions. In recent years, a growing number of
occupational therapists have integrated video game tech-
nologies, into rehabilitation programs. They have been
used successful in increasing patients’ motivation and
encouraging full body movement. To make systems which
are more patient friendly few low-cost, VR-based system
have been designed which use auditory, visual, and haptic
elements to provide extrinsic feedback and motivation to
patients (Anderson et al. 2011). Armed forces medical
community has to address many patients with physical
rehabilitation and the uses of VR-based techniques help
them not only to assist patients but also to improve the
moral of troops.
Militaries are found using the VR technology beyond
the routine medical practices. They are found using the
virtual world to treat traumatized veterans of the Iraq war.
The aim of the study is to give the troops a high-tech way
to confront and overcome mental war wounds. Here with
the help of VR technology electronically, a virtual Iraq is
created with added effects of sound, light and other effects.
In this type of exposure therapy, a therapist helps the sol-
dier to confront the memories, so that he or she becomes
less afraid of those memories, thus being able to look at the
situation differently and more rationally. Here a variety of
scents are manufactured, both pleasant and unpleasant. The
smell of fire, diesel, cordite, body odor and burning rubber
also plays a role to facilitate memory recall and emotional
processing. The biggest advantage of such therapy is that it
allows the replication of the war zone in a safe way that
therapists can control.
20
3.6 Virtual reality in warfare
Military technologists are of the opinion that the technol-
ogies like VR have the potential to redefine the modern day
warfare and there is a need to research more on such
technologies beyond the fighter pilot heads-up-display and
medical applications. Currently, the work is under progress
to develop the soldier helmets which could communicate
with a main server that collects and delivers three-
20
http://www.stripes.com/news/military-uses-virtual-therapy-to-
help-troops-heal-wounds-1.92986.
Virtual reality and its military utility
123
dimensional information onto the wearer’s goggles in real
time. With the help of a color code, the soldiers would be
warned of the things such as friendly forces, potential
danger spots, impending air-raid locations, rendezvous
points and many other important aspects. Also, the US
military industry is working toward the development of a
system of lightweight sensors and displays that collects and
provides data from and to each individual soldier in the
field. This includes a computer, a 360camera, UV and
infrared sensors, stereoscopic cameras, and organic light-
emitting diode (OLED) technology translucent display
goggles (Cameron 2010). Robotic technology is one
interdisciplinary technology which could be associated
with the VR in a significant way and could fine its utility in
training, avionics, intelligence gathering, bio-medicine and
various engineering applications.
Defence industry in the US is working on few projects
based on the requirements put forth by the military. The US
government is supporting such ventures. For helicopter
crewmen to undertake specific tasks, it becomes essential
download computer data and graphics from thermal cam-
eras. However, mostly it is not possible to accommodate
traditional monitors due to lack of sufficient space. The
answer to this is the use of a head-mounted display (HMD)
which could combine a small, over-the-eye monitor
mounted to an adjustable band worn around the head or
helmet. Obviously, such equipments are expected to
withstand rugged conditions, including extreme climates,
precipitation, and dust. Such HMD departs from a tradi-
tional monitor in that it offers augmented reality, meaning
the transmitted data displays transparently so that the user
can see through the image. Here the image is laid over the
view of the real world. Augmented-reality HMD technol-
ogy can play an important role on today’s digital battle-
field. It offers a solution to the problem of non-see-through
displays which inhibit a soldier’s view (Howard 2007).
VR-based soldier training allows to train the troops by
creating foreign zones in own land.
21
The virtual training
device creates a realistic simulation of overseas territory to
prepare soldiers for future international deployments. Such
systems as multiple utilities, it allows creating a battlefield
scenario with the adversary and also helps to train the
troops to operate in a likely UN mission scenario or any
other joint deployment with the troops of the other states.
From a market perspective, the military simulation and
virtual training market are growing rapidly. It’s sector is
fast emerging as an important sector in the defence
industry. It is expected that as states would start reducing
defence spending in the face of economic pressures or
would attempt to reorganize the training, technology and
hardware priorities the military simulation and virtual
training would grow as a cost-effective alternative. Pres-
ently, the US dominates the military simulation and virtual
training market. But, the demand is growing globally from
the UK and France in Europe and states like Saudi Arabia
in the Middle East. China and India are identified as the
two crucial future emerging markets with a very strong
growth in spending.
22
The likely maturing of this technology in the military
domain in coming years also brings to the fore in the need
to address the policy issues (Wilson 2008) which are evi-
dent today and could surface in the future. For this purpose,
it is important to appreciate the fact that VR and its con-
nected branches of technology are likely to find their utility
in the military domain well beyond training purposes.
Presently, there is no palpable global strategy to judge the
military utility and performance of existing and emerging
VR technologies. Like all other developed military tech-
nologies, it is essential to establish basic understanding at
the global level with respect to VR. This is because when
such technologies would be used for operational purposes a
need would arise to formulate specific guidelines and also
certain doctrinal changes could be envisaged both at policy
and operational levels depending on the status of technol-
ogy at that point in time. In near future, various issues
could come to the fore with regard to standardization of
this technology, what could be the just and unjust aspects
of this technology depending on the established global
norms, nature of technological infrastructures (commu-
nication/satellite/ground based) required to administer this
technology etc. Also, there could be issues with regard to
international transfer and sale of this technology. The dual
use aspects of this technology and related global concerns
could also emerge in the near future.
4 Recent and future research
The growth of VR for the militaries needs to be viewed
slightly differently in comparison with some other tech-
nologies. This is because VR is per say not a platform
technology like the combat aircraft, ship or a tank. It is
more of an application oriented technology. At the same
time, its induction needs to be viewed bit differently in
comparison with other application-oriented technologies
like the information technology (IT). This is because in
21
Army Uses Virtual Reality Soldier Training, 01 Nov 2010,
http://www.armedforces-int.com/news/army-uses-virtual-reality-
soldier-training.html.
22
As per the Defence Market Research Reports titled ‘‘The Military
Simulation and Virtual Training Market 2010–2020’’. This report has
been published by Companiesandmarkets.com is a leading online
business information aggregator. Information is available at
http://www.reportlinker.com/p096388/The-Military-Simulation-and-
Virtual-Training-Market-Analysis.html#ixzz1G09RZYAV.
A. Lele
123
case of IT, one of the major applicability is to increase the
efficiency of the existing systems but induction of VR at
places demands the structural and doctrinal changes. Also,
some VR and cognitive science-based applications raise
moral issues and more importantly VR still remains in the
realm of developing technology, particularly in the military
context. Because of these reasons and other factors like the
cost and the technological knowhow, only few militaries at
present at making concentrated efforts to induct this tech-
nology. On the other hand, not much of information is
available in the open source literature about the military
applicability of this technology probably because of the
inherent nature of military secrecy.
The research in military VR appears to be mainly
undertaken by the US and few European countries. The
government organizations like the US Naval Research
Laboratory (NRL) and few other military research insti-
tutes are involved in conducting military VR research. The
Swedish military is doing some innovative research in VR.
The work is being carried out by three military adminis-
trations, FOI—Swedish Defence Research Agency,
FMV—Swedish Defence Materiel Administration, and
SNDC—Swedish National Defence College. For Military
Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT), they have devel-
oped a map which offers three-dimensional information
with some operational functionality which gives cognitive
decision support for the operator. Such maps have utility as
an information and decision aid during an exercise or as a
planning- and evaluation-tool. They are also working on
future soldiers, computer generated forces, human behavior
modeling, and flight simulator technologies (Borgvall and
Lif 2011).
As mentioned in the paper earlier, one of the significant
VR trends for the future appears to be the adaptation of
video games for military purposes. Particularly, the modern
day gaming industry is keeping in view the increasing
speed of home computers for designing the games (Haar
2011). They are also found developing more realistic
gaming modules to cater for increasing market competi-
tion. Because of this slowly the difference between games
and military simulators is found declining. It is expected
that in near future militaries would develop some of their
VR-based tools by modifying the available games to match
their requirements instead of reinventing the wheel.
Currently, research is being undertaken in the field of
Virtual Reality Geographic Information System (VRGIS).
This new generation of GIS combines three-dimensional
GIS, visual technology, and virtual reality technology. This
system could be of major use for the data management,
analysis, and graphical display of three-dimensional space
(The Research of Virtual Reality Geographic Information
System 2011). Militaries could use this system by replacing
their existing two-dimensional GIS space data models.
Also, once fully developed, militaries could juxtapose the
VRGIS technology on their various other hardware and
software tools as the requirements.
Any further research in the VR field related to medical
applications would have utility for the militaries. Certain
specific research needs to be undertaken in this arena to
cater for military requirements. Handling anxiety is
important particularly for the soldiers wounded in wars or
while handling other security-related tasks. There is a need
to develop the cognitive and behavioral therapies keeping
military needs in mind. Also, particularly for the para-
chutist jumping training simulators are being used for
many years. They have helped in minimized injuries sig-
nificantly. In the twenty-first century, the roles of militaries
are constantly getting redefined and are engaged to handle
natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear
disasters to antipiracy operations. Under such circum-
stances, it is essential to train the troops adequately and VR
could offer innovative solutions in this regard.
5 Conclusion
Over the years, modern militaries are increasingly found
using VR technology successfully. Significant develop-
ments in the information and communication technology
field have brought in rapid resolution in VR technology.
For all these years, training has one area where VR has
found maximum utility and the same would continue in the
near future too. However, it is well understood that the
virtual training may not be able to replace the physical
training or actual operational training and experiences
gathered during various military exercises but still it could
play a major role in various other aspects of training both
because of technological and financial advantages.
The importance of VR is likely to increase in near future
much more for a variety of reasons. First, rapid develop-
ments in technology are offering new near real solutions
and making wealth of tools available to cater for various
military requirements beyond training. Second, twenty-first
century military challenges are both conventional and
asymmetric in nature demanding evolution of innovative
technologies to address them and VR could offer some of
the answers. Third, VR offers solutions without causing
any loss or damage to humans and equipment. Fourth,
technology is now available at a manageable price. The
present generation personal computers have the capabilities
of the supercomputers of yesteryears. Various sophisticated
accessories required for the VR experience are available at
the affordable prices. Fifth, the VR technologies success-
fully keep the ‘clutter’ away while taking operational
decisions because it works on different dimensions
simultaneously and make available only the required
Virtual reality and its military utility
123
information. This allows the decision maker to take a
correct, timely and quick decision. Because of all such
advantages, more states are likely to invest in VR tech-
nologies for their militaries in near future. Various devel-
opments in the VR technology are also been aptly
supported by the global video gaming industry. The future
advancements in the video gaming industry are likely help
the military VR developments too. Overall, the VR tech-
nologies demonstrate the potential to the change the nature
of warfare foundations for the future.
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    In recent years, a growing number of occupational therapists have integrated video game technologies, such as the Nintendo Wii, into rehabilitation programs. 'Wiihabilitation', or the use of the Wii in rehabilitation, has been successful in increasing patients' motivation and encouraging full body movement. The non-rehabilitative focus of Wii applications, however, presents a number of problems: games are too difficult for patients, they mainly target upper-body gross motor functions, and they lack support for task customization, grading, and quantitative measurements. To overcome these problems, we have designed a low-cost, virtual-reality based system. Our system, Virtual Wiihab, records performance and behavioral measurements, allows for activity customization, and uses auditory, visual, and haptic elements to provide extrinsic feedback and motivation to patients.