Video games and warfare have had a long relationship, so it was only a matter of time before a military operation got its fingers in the Oculus Rift pie. The virtual-reality headset designed for gaming applications is now being used by the Norwegian army to help them drive tanks by providing a 360-degree view outside the vehicle.
The system consists of a series of four video cameras with convex lenses both front and back of the tank. With each set of cameras offering a 185-degree view, this covers 360 degrees around the tank -- and, thanks to the Oculus Rift's motion tracking, all the operator has to do to move their view around is turn their head. This allows for the driver to negotiate hazardous situations without having to open the hatch and look around.
The video game connection is not lost on the team.
"Those who play Battlefield can see much better than you do in an actual vehicle," Making View's Daniel Mestervik told Norwegian news service TU. "With our software, you can add elements we are used to from games. You can have a map, you can show each orientation, how much you tilt, the speed -- it's very useful when you have to close all your hatches."
However, the system can't yet serve as a full-time replacement for looking around. For starters, any equipment placed on the outside of a tank is vulnerable to the hazardous situations the driver may be trying to avoid.
Secondly, the Oculus Rift technology has its own set of problems, and not just the vertigo experienced by some users. "It's more strenuous for the eyes, since it's a synthetic picture, so it will be used when you think you could be shot at," Major Ola Petter Odden of the army's Combat Lab said. "Over longer transports, you might want to drive looking out the hatch because it's more natural for your head and you won't get tired as quickly."
The system -- which has been designed for the military by Hamar, Norway-based imaging company Making View -- is made from standard equipment, including an ordinary PC, inexpensive cameras and the Oculus Rift headset -- all of which is much less expensive than purpose-built military-grade gear. And the teams have high hopes for the advancement of the technology.
"The fact that Facebook bought the Oculus Rift means that it has strong financial backing and the development will advance rapidly forward now," Major Odden said. "I'm optimistic we will soon have good enough goggles to run this as an operational concept."