Holograms Coming to a Military Theater Near You

The holy grail of virtual reality may be a training reality for future troops.

The military’s increased reliance on virtual reality to train warfighters may be converging with rapid advances in technology that will bring the holodeck of Star Trek fame closer to actuality. Holograms and similar technologies offer the possibility of realistic, cost-effective training and education for a broad array of military missions and commercial applications.

The U.S. military already has put virtual humans to good use. For example, the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, has used virtual reality characters to touch warfighters in one way or another before, during and after combat deployments. The Army Research Laboratory funds the institute, which was initiated with the holodeck in mind. The ICT has created several programs to train soldiers in situational awareness and for urban combat and counterimprovised explosive device missions. The institute’s virtual humans also help counsel warfighters suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Maj. Gen. Jonathan Maddux, USA, program executive officer for simulation, training and instrumentation, indicates that hologram technology “continues to be a work in progress” but that Tactical Digital Hologram technology has “shown promise” with the U.S. Army Special Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Special operators use the technology to create 3-D maps of villages or specific buildings.