Metaverse news

The U.S. military is building its own metaverse

On May 10, two fighter pilots conducted a high-altitude proto-metaverse experiment. Several thousand feet above the California desert in a pair of Berkut 540 jets, they donned custom-made AR headsets and tapped into a system that overlaid them with a ghostly glowing image of a refueling plane flying next to them in the sky. Then one of the pilots performed a refueling maneuver with the virtual tanker, while the other watched. Welcome to the nascent military meta universe.

Silicon Valley isn't the only one gripped by metaverse mania these days. While tech companies and corporations are in a rush to develop strategies for virtual worlds, many defense startups, contractors and financiers are increasingly talking about the metaverse, even if its definition and usefulness are not always clear.

The key technologies needed for the metaverse - augmented and virtual reality, head-mounted displays, 3D simulations and virtual environments created by artificial intelligence - already exist in the defense world. The result will be far less polished, cute and spacious than Mark Zuckerberg's vision of the virtual world, but that's partly the point. And there's a good chance that the underlying technology could take off, even if it sticks in the civilian sphere.

Courtesy of Red 6

A combination of augmented reality, artificial intelligence and video game graphics, for example, has allowed fighter pilots to practice battles against virtual opponents, including Chinese and Russian warplanes, while making multiple Gs. Red 6, the company that develops the technology, says it allows for a much more realistic test of a pilot's abilities than a typical flight simulator. "We can fly against any threat," says Daniel Robinson, founder and CEO of Red 6, "and that threat can either be controlled remotely by humans or by artificial intelligence.

Red6's AR technology should work under more extreme conditions, with less latency and higher reliability than consumer AR or VR headsets. Robinson adds that the company is now working on a platform that will present many different scenarios in augmented or virtual reality. "What we're creating is really a military meta universe," he says. "It's like a multiplayer video game in the sky."
Ideas related to the metaworld are already part of some of the latest military systems. A high-tech helmet for the new F-35 fighter jet, for example, includes an augmented reality display that shows telemetry and target information on top of video footage from the aircraft. In 2018, the U.S. Army announced it would pay Microsoft up to $22 billion to develop a version of the HoloLens augmented reality system for the military, known as the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS).

Courtesy of Red 6

VR and AR have become commonplace aspects of military training in recent years. In 2014, the Office of Naval Research and the Creative Technology Institute at the University of Southern California developed Project BlueShark, a system that allows sailors to operate ships and collaborate in a virtual environment. Another work, called Project Avenger, is now being used to train U.S. Navy pilots. The U.S. Air Force is using VR to teach pilots how to fly planes and complete missions. VR is also being used to treat veterans for chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. And Boeing has created an AR environment that allows mechanics to practice operating planes before climbing aboard a real aircraft.
Recently, the U.S. military has begun exploring more complex virtual worlds. There is also growing interest in connecting and merging virtual worlds, which resembles a meta-universe. In December 2021, the U.S. Air Force held a high-level conference with more than 250 people in virtual environments from the U.S. to Japan. "The prospect is to integrate these technologies," says Caitlin Dorman, general manager of the defense division of Improbable, which develops virtual world technology, creates branching virtual battlefields with more than 10,000 individually controllable characters for UK war games, and works with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). "It's an extremely complex type of simulation, especially with the precision that the military requires," Dohrman says. "You can either have live players participating in the simulation, or [the characters] can be with artificial intelligence, which the military often does."

Palmer Lackey, founder of Oculus, the VR company that Facebook acquired in 2014, says Zuckerberg's decision to devote himself entirely to VR and the metaverse has created a huge amount of anticipation in the commercial world. "Everyone on their quarterly corporate calls, a week or two later, is asking investors: "What's your metaverse game?" he says.