BiSim launches VR testing programme for British Army

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Bohemia Interactive Simulations (BiSim) has developed a virtual reality (VR) pilot for training members of the British Army as part of an £800 million fund investing in technology for military use.

The VR Reality in Land Training (VRLT) pilot will test high resolution VR headsets to improve environmental immersion, mixed reality to allow soldiers to see and interact with physical objects, and avatar customisation replicating realistic facial features and body shapes to allow users to recognise their fellow soldiers.

BiSim won the contract through the £800 million Defence Innovation Fund, which helps develop technology to benefit front-line services. The VRLT pilot was one of many successful Army bids into the fund, a part of the Defence Innovation Initiative.

VRLT will allow soldiers to train in a range of complex and hostile simulated scenarios that are not easy to recreate on a training ground. The system will be able to place troops in the middle of an urban firefight, intense crowd control situation or within a building filled with enemy soldiers.

The pilot will explore the potential benefits and effectiveness of VR for the British Army. At the end of the programme, recommendations will be put forward on how to best exploit this new technology for soldier training.

Commenting on the pilot, UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Our armed forces have always embraced innovation and continue to push the boundaries of technological advancement. We are committed to harnessing new and emerging capabilities like virtual reality through our £800 million Defence Innovation Fund.”

Innovations such as virtual reality offer immersive and flexible training, and this pilot is pushing the boundaries to explore how we might make best use of it

Brigadier Bobby Walton-Knight CBE, the Army’s head of training capability

Brigadier Bobby Walton-Knight CBE, the Army’s head of training capability, said: “The Army has a reputation for world-class training which prepares our people for demanding and complex operations. Our training continually develops and so we constantly look for the best technology to make it as effective as possible. Innovations such as virtual reality offer immersive and flexible training, and this pilot is pushing the boundaries to explore how we might make best use of it.”

The UK’s armed forces already utilise simulation to hone the skills of their service personnel. At the end of last year, RAF Odiham unveiled its £53 million Chinook simulators, which replicate real-life operations.

The Royal Navy also benefits from Bridge Simulators, which create an immersive experience that allows officers to take charge of a vessel in a range of weather and emergency conditions.

The UK isn’t the only country exploring the potential of immersive technologies within the military.

Researchers at RDECOM’s Army Research Laboratory, the US Army’s corporate research laboratory, are working with the University of Minnesota and the US Army’s Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California to understand how the viability of mixed reality might be assessed and tested.