US Army considers using augmented reality for mission planning

The US Army is pondering the use of augmented reality to assist with mission planning, with a research project currently underway to determine what benefits the technology could bring.

The research, which is currently being undertaken by members of the Cognitive Science Team at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC), involves soldiers learning a mock mission route using a 3D model of a city. AR could prove a better tool than the traditional 2D maps soldiers currently use for mission planning.

“Our goal is to evaluate mobile AR as a promising candidate technology to improve mission-planning operations,” explained NSRDEC research psychologist Aaron Gardony.

“Soldiers are members of a team, but they are also multi-faceted individuals with unique preferences and aptitudes. For example, some may easily visualize three-dimensional environments from two-dimensional maps, but others may learn better using 3D imagery.”

Soldier or not, while some people can easily translate 2D renderings into 3D, for many it’s a challenge to visualise a flat plan as a fully fleshed out space, which is why AR could be very beneficial to day-to-day Army operations.

“In contrast to the one-size-fits-all approach 2D representations provide, we believe AR-based mission planning using interactive 3D maps and models could allow individuals to tailor their planning experience to their own preferences and those of their team members,” explained Gardony.

“Doing so could improve cognitive performance at both the individual and group level, leading to improved mission-planning outcomes and, ultimately, enhanced mission effectiveness.”

When viewing the model in AR, the soldiers can pan, rotate and zoom the city view, allowing them to ‘see’ the route in the manner that best suits them.

Images courtesy of Aaron Gardony, NSRDEC Cognitive Science Team, via the US Army

The researchers are trialling AR by tasking soldiers with learning the urban route before walking the real-life version from memory.

It is hoped that the researchers will be able to quantify any benefits that AR provides, and so make a case for the technology becoming officially adopted by the US Army for use in real-world missions.

“This study takes a novel step in evaluating AR for mission planning/route learning,” said Gardony.

“Positive results could provide a basis for future fielding of these technologies to improve mission planning and justify future research examining its impacts in other military contexts.”

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