Preliminary Evaluations of Wearable XR Viewing and Interaction Hardware for Prolonged Use in Military Settings

Jenkins, M. and Talbot, T.

Invited panel presentation for the 2018 Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, PA (October 2018).

In recent years, wearable augmented, virtual, and mixed reality (XR) technologies have supported users in a variety of domains to enhance situation awareness (SA), enable on-the-job training, foster effective communications, and support decision making in complex and uncertain situations. To date, consumer and commercial applications have been the primary drivers of wearable XR technology. DoD-relevant XR wearables are beginning to emerge, with applications primarily seen in Warfighter training and simulation, such as enhanced optics that provide sensor-based filters (e.g., night vision) versus spatially localized view augmentations. Wearable XR approaches have not been widely adopted by the US military, despite the potential to significantly enhance many of US Warfighter operations. However, history has shown that introducing novel technologies into complex domains without comprehensive consideration of the domain, its users, the environment, and the constraints and affordances that result from each in isolation and through interactions is rarely successful. As a result, investments into XR-based technologies must be informed to ensure pursuits maximize the potential to succeed and yield a significant return-on-investment (ROI).

While XR technologies hold significant potential to augment and enhance multiple aspects of US military operations, many factors must be considered, especially in the prolonged use-cases of most military applications. Among them are XR display platforms, visualization techniques, supporting algorithms (e.g., for accurate presentation of virtual information overlaid on the physical world), and operational considerations such as reliability and size, weight, power, cost (SWaP-C). For example, a solution with a poor field of view (FOV) may compromise Warfighter safety, result in disorientation and compromised mission readiness, or even contribute to short-term or long-term health risks. Therefore, a disciplined research approach is required to identify applicable XR hardware and software to support candidate Warfighter operations.

To address this need, Charles River Analytics is conducting a trade study of XR technologies with a focus on evaluating candidate commercial off-the shelf (COTS) devices for military applications. To date, we have evaluated a mix of COTS devices, including 40+ XR wearable viewing peripheral (primarily head-mounted displays) and 30+ XR interaction peripherals. Based on preliminary results, we conducted a strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis focused initially on the application of wearable augmented reality technology in the US military. With this tool, we intend to guide R&D investments and efforts based on the evolving and typically fragmented hardware landscape. We will continue to evaluate soon-to-be released devices available to us through strategic partnerships within the XR industry.

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