Author:Harper, Jon

* Technology improvements driven by the commercial sector are expected to yield virtual and augmented reality goggles that solve many of the problems associated with the headsets being used by the U.S. military today, experts say.

Virtual reality, or VR, immerses users in a computer generated environment, such as video gaming. Augmented reality, or AR, transposes data or other digitally created images on top of a real-world field of view, such as the yellow first-down marker or the orange strike zone box that TV viewers see when watching football or baseball games.

VR and AR headgear can improve the way troops train for high-end fights against advanced adversaries by providing digitally created enemy forces or other environmental factors that they might encounter in a real battle, officials have noted.

"The commercial sector is where all the gamers are going to be using that stuff too," said Michael Blades, vice president of aerospace, defense and security at market analysis firm Frost & Sullivan. "They're going to be changing and updating and upgrading to keep pace with their competitors in that market, and that's going to increase the capability for the users on the defense end. So defense is going to end up winning from that commercial competition because they're going to get better capabilities for training."

One example is the Air Force's Pilot Training Next program, which aims to make aviator training more efficient and push undergraduates through the pipeline faster. The use of virtual reality headsets gives students more opportunities to hone their skills.

In the traditional pilot training construct, students start with some paper publications or an iPad that has their training documents on it, said Lt. Col. Robert Knapp, operations officer at Air Force Education and Training Command Detachment 24.

"They go from that into an extremely expensive traditional simulator where they can do the full range of flight maneuvers," he said. "The problem with those expensive sims is there's only a handful of them and they're constrained on the number of times a student can get into them."

However, students participating in the Pilot Training Next initiative can sit in a chair and strap on a commercial device such as the HTC VIVE Pro and practice maneuvers.

VR headsets give the Air Force the opportunity to provide airmen with much more access to simulation technology.

"We can fill in the gaps between reading something in a book or an iPad and doing a high fidelity simulator with some cheaper commercially available tools that are out there," Knapp said.

But today's headsets...

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