UK MoD science lab Dstl conducts VR collaboration test

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The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), responsible for ensuring that innovative science and technology contributes to the defence and security of the UK, has held its first-ever virtual reality (VR) collaboration.

Members of staff based at different Dstl sites met in cyber space to collaborate on building a virtual aircraft engine.

The UK Ministry of Defence-sponsored Dstl said this first trial was a success, paving the way for more virtual meetings, including supporting training for a range of law enforcement and defence agencies.

The agency sees VR collaboration as a means to convene police agencies and the military in a virtual space in the event of a crisis, giving them an opportunity to prepare. The technology can also support training together from remote locations.

This virtual collaboration can take place between multiple sites, without anyone ever leaving their office, and can be done over secure lines, allowing sensitive scenarios to be used, Dstl explained.

Participating in this first trial, a Dstl tester said: “I was standing in a warehouse and could see a table with items. I could move over to it by clicking on the hand controller. Suddenly, I’m near some engine parts, part of an aeroplane on a bench. It’s hyper-real and totally immersive.”

“This is the first time this has been done at Dstl. We’ve identified a technology to do it, which presents huge opportunities for shared training, meeting and even new design work.”

Mike Ferguson, security and policing group at Dstl

Mike Ferguson, from security and policing group at Dstl, said of the VR test: “This is the first time this has been done at Dstl. We’ve identified a technology to do it, which presents huge opportunities for shared training, meeting and even new design work.”

“Collaborating in a virtual volumetric space, using the latest VR technology, is very new. We’ve tried other systems, but this is the first VR system that we’ve found which is really effective. It’s still evolving; in the future we’ll be in a virtual space as ourselves and be able to see lifelike avatars. It’s connecting with people. It’s making the world smaller.”

He added: “For us, we’re really interested in how we can develop the technology to support our customers to train more smartly, efficiently and effectively in the future. We learn by doing—enhancing muscle memory. By actually doing it, it helps you to perform better. With ever-increasing demands on our policing and defence colleagues, finding the time for quality training is becoming a challenge. We think we can alleviate some of the burden through use of this technology.”