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When Microsoft bought the Osterhaut Design Group (ODG) patents to begin its HoloLens project in 2015, ODG was a small company doing business with the U.S. military. ODG is currently working with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and TechSolutions to give U.S. Marine signals intelligence (SIGINT) specialists an augmented environment for the battlefield by designing augmented-reality glasses to create digital overlays of real-time information.
The X-6 system, the one being developed, has stereoscopic optics to provide a virtual display and built-in communication devices for transferring and receiving data. The glasses only weigh 4.5 ounces, little compared to many commercial headsets.
ODG and TechSolutions modified the X-6 glasses to have a toggling weapons-mounted interface that allows Marines to take their positions and fire their weapons accurately. The OS is Android, which allows the Marines to test out and deploy new applications easily.
Other applications include directional markers, maps of the surrounding environment, friendly force tracking and different alerts for sending to different groups of soldiers.
SIGINT instructor and staff sergeant Nicholas Lannan worked together with U.S. Marine modeling and simulation expert Major Christian Fitzpatrick to create a hands-free, Android-based augmented-reality device to simply replace the need to check his smartphone. The smartphone coupled with the antenna systems he was carrying made him less inconspicuous than is desirable in a combat situation.
Throughout this coordinated effort to create battle-ready augmented-reality glasses, a few problems kept coming up, namely that the headset was very fragile, and very expensive at around USD$20,000.
In pursuing their research about how helpful augmented reality could be for small-unit leaders, a group of Marines, known as “The Spartans,” from the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines held a technology training week.
Also dubbed “Spartan Week,” the event is an opportunity to use ONR technologies, including an Interactive Tactical Decision Game (I-TDG) with a HoloLens, as well as a UAV survey system for modeling the ground from the sky. A person known as an augmented immersive team trainer uses the Web-based I-TDG to conduct simulation exercises and games that test tactical prowess.
This capability allows small-unit leaders to practice different battlefield situations and view the results of their simulations and games, like the way professional athletes will watch footage of practices or games to improve their skills.
According to engineering.com, Microsoft has nothing against consumer media like gaming of course, but for now, it’s going to step back and let the new mixed-reality OS hopefully take off as the software of choice for many new augmented-reality hardware devices as well as virtual-reality devices that will be manufactured by companies like Lenovo, Dell, HP and Asus.