Holograms Next Step in Realistic Training for Tomorrow’s Troops

By Stew Magnuson

Ground troops today train in mock villages, where two-dimensional insurgents and civilians pop out of windows or doorways, and the soldier or Marine must instantly decide to shoot or hold fire.

Holographic technology, which is beginning to make inroads in the entertainment industry, could replace those 2D cutouts with virtual characters so realistic that it would make the trainee “crap his pants,” said James Jacobs, senior vice president of entertainment technology at Anakando Media Group, the parent company of HologramUSA.

The company has made headlines by placing the image of the dead rapper Tupac Shakur on a stage. It has teleported the cast of the ballet Swan Lake to other locations and, more recently, had WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange — currently holed up in an apartment in London’s Ecuadorian embassy — give a live interview in the United States, appearing here as a hologram and taking questions from the interviewer as if he were sitting next to him.

HologramUSA came to Washington, D.C., in August to make inroads in the government and political marketplaces, and hired a local lobbying firm to help it spread the word.

The company hopes holograms become a tool for candidates in the 2016 election as they were earlier this year in India, where newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi transported his hologram to platforms on trucks to speak to and engage with voters in far-flung provinces.
As for the military market, Jacobs said training and simulation is the most obvious application.

Teaching the repair and maintenance of nuclear warheads is one application the company is already exploring. Technicians must maintain their certifications with steady, periodic training. An instructor in another location with a virtual or real mockup of a nuclear bomb can walk them through the process with classrooms set up anywhere in the world.

Or an aircraft maintenance instructor can walk into a virtual jet engine and “blow it up.” Not literally, but the holographic engine parts would disassemble and seemingly float in the air. The instructor can enlarge them, then show the students how each part fits.   

“Jet engine repair is so complicated. But what if you could walk inside the engine?” Jacobs said. “That is completely doable and easy for us to accomplish at this moment. The technology is developed to that point.”

Hologram technology works using special 4K cameras and projectors. A typical LCD home television today has a 1048p screen, or 1,048 pixels per square inch. These multiple lens cameras have 4,000 pixels per square inch, which Jacobs said is misleading. It isn’t four times as clear; it’s 10 times clearer.

The subject is in a green room, a plain background that will not appear in the final image. Software then instantly processes the image and “cleans it up” by stripping away anything around it.

The data is sent over satellite links to the spot where the image will appear through a holographic projector.

There, the audience is actually looking through a transparent “foil.” This polymer sheet is placed about where a curtain on a stage might go. Light traveling through the foil is split in two, which gives the hologram its depth. The computer algorithms further tune the image, so a subject’s feet walking on a stage are perfectly synchronized with the floor.

As for training in mock villages or cities, the holograms could be combined with currently available software that records when the soldier’s bullet hits the back of a wall. Trainers could tell who really fired first and hit its target, the soldier or the hologram.

“We can do that now,” Jacobs said.

Another application for the military is strategic communication to the forces. If the Army chief of staff wants to release and discuss new doctrine, he could appear simultaneously at all 16 divisions on stage with the local commander. He could, by looking at 16 monitors, take questions from any of the troops. And the USO might be interested in broadcasting concerts to remote bases overseas.

The next logical step is a holodeck type experience, a concept popularized in the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series, where the spaceship-bound characters trained and entertained themselves in a room populated by computer-generated avatars.

Some of that is possible today, Jacobs said, although these avatars would not be standing next to a trainee. He has to be looking through a foil. Assange’s interviewer, for example, appeared to be sitting next to him, but if he looked to his left, there was nobody there.

Work continues on creating 8,000K cameras, which will be exponentially better than the current technology, Jacobs noted.

Setting up a hologram site is about $250,000, but that price is flexible depending on how many receiving stations a customer may need, he said.                 

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Topics: Science and Engineering Technology, Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training, ComputerBased Training, Live Training

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