Members of the Cognitive Science Team at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, are helping Soldiers to keep it real — and then some. The team is investigating how augmented reality, or AR, may help Soldiers improve their mission-planning skills.

“Our goal is to evaluate mobile AR as a promising candidate technology to improve mission-planning operations,” said Aaron Gardony, an NSRDEC research psychologist. “Soldiers are members of a team, but they are also multi-faceted individuals with unique preferences and aptitudes. For example, some may easily visualize three-dimensional environments from two-dimensional maps, but others may learn better using 3-D imagery.

“In contrast to the one-size-fits-all approach 2-D representations provide, we believe AR-based mission planning using interactive 3-D maps and models could allow individuals to tailor their planning experience to their own preferences and those of their team members. Doing so could improve cognitive performance at both the individual and group level, leading to improved mission-planning outcomes and, ultimately, enhanced mission effectiveness.”

Currently, mission and route planning is often performed by Soldiers located in the same place using 2-D displays, such as topographic maps, but improvements in technology have enabled new approaches.

“Recent advances in augmented reality technology have allowed for rich, mobile and multi-user augmented reality experiences,” said Gardony. “Leveraging this nascent technology in our current work, we ask how AR-based interactions with rich 3-D environmental models can improve route learning compared to existing 2-D methods.”

In the ongoing study, participants learn a prescribed route while interacting with a 3-D model of a city. They are able to zoom, pan and rotate their view while memorizing the route, and then they are tasked with walking the route from memory.

This is like the movie Iron Man where Tony Stark manipulates 3D virtual models