Government Agencies Boost Virtual and Augmented Reality Investments


A sailor trains in a virtual environment on a specially built treadmill. (Navy photo)The U.S. government has started to make significant investments in both virtual and augmented reality as a way to boost training and operations while achieving billions in cost savings. These investments will open the door to opportunities for startups and small businesses in the VR and AR industries to find government funding.

Justin Kondos, a founder and CTO of MOOVR, has already capitalized on those investments made by the Army Research Laboratory. His company is continuing the development of an omni-directional treadmill that was started by the Army.

Army Research Lab officials developed the treadmill to offer realistic movements for soldiers completing training in a virtual environment. MOOVR is continuing that work while also expanding the offerings to video gamers in the commercial industry.

Nintendo’s Pokemon Go release over the summer took the U.S. by storm leading to questions about the potential for augmented reality in the  market. Some military leaders have asked if breakthroughs in the new technology would lead to major advances in training and operations.

Those same military officials are finding it hard to ignore the savings achieved by virtual and augmented reality training. Air Force officials estimated the service alone has saved $1.7 billion over the past four years migrating some of its flight training to advanced simulators.

Citing those savings, Navy aviation leaders are transferring more of their flight training to simulators. For example, pilots learning the new P-8A Poseidon aircraft will complete about 70 percent of their training in simulators. Air Force aircrews in both Special Operations Command and Air Mobility Command complete about half of their training in simulators, according to service statistics.

Many of the largest companies in the defense industry build these simulators, but there are opportunities for startups to provide pieces of the larger systems. The equipment and software that run these virtual and augmented reality systems is the area where the government is making the greatest amount of R&D investments.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has stood up a program called VirtualEye that is designed to give troops the ability to see into rooms before kicking down doors. Soldiers could toss miniature 3-D cameras into the room and then get a 3-D view of the room on their laptop or tablet.

It’s easy to see how these types of advancements in cameras and real time software could migrate to the virtual and augmented reality industries quickly, offering soldiers new solutions in combat to avoid walking into ambushes.

The investments in virtual and augmented reality programs are not limited to the Defense Department. Agencies like NASA are expected investment in virtual and augmented reality programs and hire a large number of new developers.

NASA is using the new technologies across a wide spectrum already ranging from education to research. To prepare for a Mars mission, augmented reality programs allow scientists to discuss the planet while seeing themselves walk on its red soil. Developers are also working on systems that allow engineers to virtually inspect satellites in space.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also sees a future for virtual and augmented reality, especially in telemedicine. Eliminating trips to the emergency room or doctor with diagnosis over the computer has already gained popularity. Imagine if you could experience sitting in the doctor’s office with your VR headset without ever leaving your living room?

NIH also sees unimaginable potential in training and surgeries. Advancements have already been made with microscopic cameras allowing surgeons to have an even better view of their procedures. Developing the virtual systems to match those leaps in camera technology will only improve the quality of surgeries performed today.

To learn more about the ways in which government agencies are investing in virtual and augmented reality technologies, join us Monday evening at 6 p.m. at Eastern Foundry’s new campus in Rosslyn, Va. Program mangers, research fellows and developers from DARPA, NIH, and NASA will be joining us along with local VR startups and developers to show off the technologies they are developing.

Space is limited and registration is required for this free event so please make sure to RSVP here.

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