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Top Marine tries HoloLens
Marine Corps Commandant Robert Neller uses a HoloLens augmented-reality system to manipulate virtual objects during a demonstration at Camp Foster on Okinawa in April. (U.S. Marine Photo / Tayler P. Schwamb)

Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented-reality system is scoring victories with the U.S. military, which means the goggle-eyed headsets are more likely to pop up at a wargame near you.

Last November, the HoloLens system was incorporated into a platform known as the Augmented Immersive Team Trainer, which lets Marines plan missions and conduct “what-if” simulations while looking at a real or virtual terrain.

The experiment, conducted during training exercises at Camp Lejeune, N.C., worked so well that the Marines are now distributing HoloLens kits to 24 infantry battalions around the country.

“This suite of new training tools is easy to implement and can be tailored to Marines’ needs,” Peter Squire, a program officer in the Office of Naval Research’s Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare and Combating Terrorism Department, said last week in a news release. “It will allow Marines to think more critically and adapt more quickly to changing environments and adversaries.”

The kits take advantage of software developed by the Office of Naval Research that gives trainers the capability to program scenarios based on real-world operations.

Thanks to the headset displays, Marines can interact with the scenarios that are superimposed on their field of view, either singly or as a shared operation with other Marines. The kits are designed to be used in barracks “decision rooms,” where Marines can practice their decision-making skills and compete with each other.

The experience is a bit like the holodeck training sessions conducted at Starfleet Command. Col. James Jenkins, director of science and technology for the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, said HoloLens squads can run through a scenario, then improve on their performance.

“Here’s the debrief, here’s who shot whom, when, and here’s why – and go back and get better every time,” he said. (Let’s just hope those Marines are on their toes for the Kobayashi Maru simulation.)

It’s not just the Marines who are taking advantage of HoloLens. The Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Disruptive Technologies Laboratory is working with Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory to create a HoloLens-enabled interface for submersibles used by Navy SEAL commandos.

When operators are wearing the headset, they can manipulate virtual switches and sliders in thin air to simulate steering a submersible. And that’s not all.

“This not only works on the trainer, but we’ve also been able to use it for basic control functions on the actual mechanical systems,” lab member Harry Whittaker said in a news release.

VR demonstration
Sonar Technician 2nd Class Andrew McFarland, assigned to the Trident Training Facility at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in Washington state, tests the OceanLens, which uses an Oculus Rift VR headset to provide a 3-D immersive view of undersea topography. (U.S. Navy Photo / Amanda R. Gray)

Someday, the headset may be integrated with wearable sensors to provide a full-body virtual experience that replicates what warfighters do in the real world, said Garry Shields, director of the Disruptive Technologies Lab.

“A future sailor might be able to train with augmented reality from the day they enter boot camp,” he said, “and all they would have to do is register to the ship and log in to interface with all the ship’s systems.”

Last month, the Trident Training Facility at Bangor, Wash., played host to a virtual-reality road show organized by the Innovation Lab for the Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, or COMSUBPAC.

Submariners had an opportunity to try out the HoloLens as well as OceanLens, a virtual-reality system based on the Oculus Rift platform that can create a 3-D immersive environment for visualizing undersea topography.

“The virtual-reality headset felt really realistic,” Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Eliot Grubb, who’s assigned to the ballistic-missile submarine USS Kentucky, said in a news release. “I have never experienced anything like that before. I can definitely see how this technology would be useful during training, just because it could give you a firsthand look at your job before you ever set foot on a submarine.”

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