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Throughout modern history, the military has supplemented civilian technological innovation. The first prototype of the internet was famously funded by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1969 to enable inter-computer communication through a unified network. The DOD decommissioned the project in 1989, paving the way for the civilian internet’s launch in 1990.
Private-sector tech innovation has thrived since then — think of Bitcoin, Google search, deepfakes and ChatGPT. So much so that it’s easy to forget about the cyber tech and AR/VR technology that the military constantly produces and tests. The latter tech is particularly interesting, considering 2021’s metaverse bubble and speculation over how AR/VR will transform modern life.
Just as the military helped spark the digital revolution, it’s instructive to take note of how its use of AR/VR today could come to define the famously elusive metaverse tomorrow for civilians.
AR/VR gaming that’s actually convincing
Armies across the globe are undergoing intense combat training with AR, thanks to advances in data and graphic processing. Microsoft’s Hololens IVAS (integrated visual augmentation system) will be delivered to U.S. soldiers in the field this year, with the intention of giving them visual superpowers similar to those found in first-person shooting games such as Call of Duty or Battlefield. Microsoft hasn’t yet hinted at when the commercial version of the Hololens will be made available.
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Imagine the potential here. We’re talking about an AR system so advanced that it helps soldiers fight in real, physical battlefields more effectively. It’s only a matter of time before such technology will be available for consumers, and that will change the gaming paradigm and, by extension, make the metaverse much more viable.
One of the most potent critiques of the metaverse was that the vast majority of people would rather do things in the physical world than the digital world because most metaverse applications weren’t nearly as convincing enough at simulating, let alone enhancing, real life. Tech that can enhance a soldier’s performance in battle can likely enhance other real-world experiences too, making the oft-leveled metaverse critique irrelevant.
And consumer-level AR headsets already on the market allow gamers to get an even more realistic simulated battlefield experience. Arcade-style VR game guns are also already available and will become more prevalent as growing numbers of gamers migrate from traditional consoles to AR/VR-compatible gaming systems. With time and improved headsets and equipment, AR will be able to revolutionize the gaming experience.
Of course, military or first-person shooter-style games aren’t the only types of games that stand to benefit from future developments in AR. The same holds true for sports games, open-world, online battle royale games, role-playing games (RPG) and other genres.
Better training for firefighters and cops
These days, we can take predictions from foreign militaries in addition to the U.S. military. The Korean Military Academy, for example, began working with local technology companies to develop AR and VR combat training programs for its army cadets. The use of AR and VR to simulate combat training allowed South Korea to save considerable amounts of money on large-scale exercises while simultaneously reducing the chances of injuries and serious accidents.
In civilian life, firefighters can use VR to effectively simulate the physicality of complex, high-pressure rescue scenarios without risking injury. Using advanced AR equipment, a firefighter can train and improve on every aspect of the job, ranging from rapidly sliding down the pole and putting on their uniform to carrying a person from a burning building, all while in the safety of the firehouse.
Police officers, too, could benefit from life-like virtual training. Debates surrounding police brutality in the U.S. over the past years have brought to light the fact that cops simply don’t get enough training — either before they start doing field work or after years of service. VR can dramatically change that. The same principle applies to disaster-relief teams and other professions that require physical action and judgment calls in high-intensity environments.
A more immersive retail experience
AR and VR can also be effective tools for retail businesses to engage their customers in more meaningful and creative ways. With an AR headset, a basketball and a small little hardwood court, stores like Footlocker could give their customers a more immersive shoe-buying experience by enabling them to visualize themselves with their shoes in an augmented basketball setting. Fashion stores can do the same for their customers by allowing them to try on items and see how they will match with various shoes and other accessories.
No more video chat for repair instructions
Beyond simulating combat training, militaries are also using AR/VR to service and maintain vehicles, aircraft and other equipment. Through AR software and hardware, maintaining and repairing these complex machines becomes easier and more convenient, especially when the personnel with manual or deep technical know-how aren’t on site.
Since AR is being used for maintaining heavy machinery in the military sector, it can easily be used in the same capacity in mechanic shops, factories and construction sites. Imagine a scenario in which a conveyor belt breaks down in a Tesla plant, making it impossible to move parts around the factory, and the technician capable of handling the repairs is hundreds of miles away. Through AR software, the plant’s shift manager can contact the technician who can then instruct the on-site staff how to get the conveyor belt up and running.
With AR increasingly sought-after and used by militaries, it is only logical to predict that these advanced use cases will be adopted and tailored for civilian life. Despite both AR, and especially VR, having a way to go before becoming a daily fixture in our lives, Big Tech players are already diligently investing and building the hardware infrastructure they require. Now it’s up to software engineers and Web3 developers to keep pace with them.
Adrian Krion is CEO and founder of Spielworks.