Virtual-reality goggles and camera systems are giving Norwegian soldiers the ability to "see through" their armored vehicles with a 360-degree view. That means drivers of trucks and tanks will be able see all around their vehicles on future battlefields without having to poke their heads out. It's something Odin the one-eyed Norse god could appreciate.
The Norwegian Army experiment used a virtual-reality headset prototype developed by Oculus Rift, the gaming company recently bought by Facebook. Four spherical cameras located on all sides of an armored vehicle eliminate blind spots by streaming an all-around video view to the VR headset worn by the driver, according to a video by TUTV. Drivers using the headset can even parallel park with the precision of up to a centimeter by looking straight down at the armored vehicle's treads.
"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," said Major Ola Petter Odden at the Norwegian Army's Combat Lab, in aninterview. "But this, we believe, will be improved quickly."
The picture quality from the system is good enough to see clearly about 10 to 15 meters away, Odden told BBC News. But drivers have difficulty distinguishing details—such as whether someone is carrying a weapon—at farther distances. Still, Odden anticipates the system becoming technologically mature within two to three years and eventually become operational in five years. The commercial Oculus Rift technology is also much cheaper than other alternatives.
Oculus Rift had previously gained publicity for creating immersive virtual reality environments based on existing and upcoming video games. That video game heritage also came into play for the Norwegian military application, according to Making View, a Norwegian firm that helped develop the camera system and software. Combining the Oculus Rift's VR technology with the all-around cameras gives military drivers an unprecedented view similar to what gamers already enjoy when driving virtual tanks and armored personnel carriers in online military games such as "Battlefield."
The Norwegian Army also hopes to eventually use Oculus Rift to provide augmented reality for its soldiers—creating virtual heads-up displays within a vehicle driver's field of vision. The Norwegian company Augmenti is working with the military to allow vehicle drivers to see critical information about their forces, weapons, and minefields without taking their eyes off of driving.
Jeremy Hsu has been working as a science and technology journalist in New York City since 2008. He has written on subjects as diverse as supercomputing and wearable electronics for IEEE Spectrum. When he’s not trying to wrap his head around the latest quantum computing news for Spectrum, he also contributes to a variety of publications such as Scientific American, Discover, Popular Science, and others. He is a graduate of New York University’s Science, Health & Environmental Reporting Program.