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Dr Vijay Sakhuja

Stories from Dr Vijay Sakhuja

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Augmented Reality: Opportunities for Naval Forces

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

The previous year, 2016 had been a seminal year for Augmented Reality (AR). It witnessed the launch of Pokemon Go, a free-to-play, location-based AR game developed by Niantic for iOS and Android devices. The activity involved a Pokémon appearing on Google Maps and then allowing the gamers to use their browsers to search for the exotic monsters located at real-world positions and physically reaching up to them and then hit an icon on screen, and be rewarded with items and experience points.

What began as an ‘April Fools’ joke, the app-based game caught the attention of millions of young and old gaming enthusiasts across the globe who competed with each other in the streets and public places such as parks, zoos, monuments, clock towers, etc. to ‘capture, train and battle’ titular creatures (pocket monsters) or Pokémon characters’ through their mobile phones and devices to fight other creatures within the game. For instance, ghost-type Pokémon appeared in graveyards and water-type creatures near lakes and rivers, and even in military establishments forcing the US military’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, issuing a warning not to ‘chase Pokémon into controlled or restricted areas, office buildings, or homes on base’ and the Pentagon even promulgated rules for playing Pokemon Go in and around its premises.

The above may sound like an innocuous entertainment, but it showcased that it is possible to overlay virtual objects on the real-world places thus augmenting it into a new reality. However, it is useful to mention that AR systems are not new, have seen many applications for specific systems and were naturally exclusive and therefore very expensive. What is perhaps significant about the recent applications of AR is its ready availability and low-costs which encouraged it to attract general public and enter the consumer market place with a bang.

Three Realities

Before attempting to understand the role of AR for military purposes, it is useful to define a few concepts relating to Reality. Virtual Reality (VR) “is an artificial, computer-generated simulation or recreation of a real-life environment or situation. It immerses the user by making them feel like they are experiencing the simulated reality firsthand, primarily by stimulating their vision and hearing” and produces environment in which the users interact with virtual content. The digital content merges with the user’s perceptual experience by creating 2D and 3D images in the field of view. In essence, the participant-observer is totally immersed in, and able to interact with, a completely synthetic world.

Unlike VR, AR “layers computer-generated enhancements atop an existing reality in order to make it more meaningful through the ability to interact with it. AR is developed into apps and used on mobile devices to blend digital components into the real world in such a way that they enhance one another”. It achieves this by combining the virtual with the real and is used on small hand held devices with cameras.

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