The newest facility at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) will make you feel like you’ve traveled forward in time. The Dynamic Immersive Virtual Environment (DIVE) laboratory allows researchers to test and develop solutions for the Department of Defense (DoD) using leading augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) gear. The rise of this technology has already changed the way we work and learn, and it will now be used to allow Army engineers, scientists, and stakeholders to immerse themselves in true scale, 3D environments.
“We are serving a nation that requires the ability to make well-informed decisions very quickly in order to be successful,” said Jonathan Boone, Synthetic Training Environment (STE) program manager. “AR/VR has moved from something people see as gaming technology for fun to technology that represents the future of the DoD’s training activities.”
The DIVE effort was born from a desire to not only continue to be on the cutting-edge of leading technology, but to also create a singular space designed to foster collaboration among subject matter experts. ITL has long been involved in advanced modeling and visualizations through the CAD-BIM Technology Center and the Data Analysis and Assessment Center. In the past, however, proposed solutions were limited to a 2D screen. With AR/VR, users now have the ability to clearly and concretely visualize a problem and proposed solution and make more informed decisions.
“When it comes to explanation alone, we all understand things on different levels and in different ways, whether new or a seasoned professional,” said Boone. “If I create a digital twin and put you inside the data, it’s no longer 2D or abstract – it’s a reality. You no longer need to build a picture on your own, this technology allows you to be immersed in a virtual prototype.”
The Army predicts that virtual training will increase soldier preparedness by enabling realistic repetitions in a virtual simulation environment prior to face-to-face training. The DIVE will make immersive data available to a much wider audience, and ERDC researchers will be able to test AR/VR hardware products and develop applications that ensure reliability of simulations before they are transitioned for field use. This will ultimately give soldiers the pieces needed to best train for upcoming missions.
The DIVE includes multiple VR stations outfitted with headsets and hardware, all supported by leading gaming engines Unreal and Unity. Other immersive modalities include an omni-directional VR treadmill that allows for limitless investigation into simulation, wireless AR devices that support field deployments, a projection floor for semi-immersive experiences for large team collaboration, and a green screen system that supports immersive video capturing.
“This capability drives decision making,” said Boone. “You can look at a rotorcraft system such as the Black Hawk at true scale, and focus on a specific part that might need maintenance or replacement. You can take models of existing facilities and see how a renovation is going to impact its functionality long before physical construction begins. You can teach someone how to complete a task through virtual animations overlaying real systems. The possibilities are endless.
“We are headed down an exciting path where all of our data is becoming connected through the maturity of digital twins,” continued Boone. “The power of building information modeling, real time integrated sensor data, and artificial intelligence allows our teams to analyze problems, and AR/VR immerses us in the virtual solutions. From medical and bio synthetic uses to equipment trouble shooting and security needs, AR/VR technology has placed us right on the cusp of a new world. Through the DIVE laboratory, ERDC is ensuring we will stay at the forefront of this revolution.”