Where We Pokemon GO From Here

Augmented reality technology helps soldiers navigate through danger

The military is working on a number of applications of augmented reality or similar technologies. In this U.S. Army photo, a soldier uses a situational awareness and communication app during a training exercise at Fort Drum, N.Y.

In Pokémon GO, the land is rife with monsters.

The app, now a worldwide craze, challenges players to find cartoon monsters in real places, such as parks and public landmarks. At its heart is a technology called augmented reality, which places images and data over actual locations as they are viewed on a mobile or other device.

The potential of augmented reality reaches far beyond games. Raytheon has been developing the technology for years. One project was an Android-based app for soldiers in the field.

“With a quick scan, you could quickly identify all your buddies and their location relative to adversaries,” said Mark Bigham, chief innovation officer of Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services business.

Bigham said that “mixed reality” technology, similar to what drives Pokémon GO, allows military forces to traverse dangerous terrain and unfamiliar territory like it was their own backyard. A GPS-enabled app that combines latitude and longitude coordinates with points of interest could help soldiers find food, water, gas, ammunition, Wi-Fi hotspots and even potential IED locations. Using a variety of geographical databases would help highlight everything from the highest rated places to eat and sleep to the hideouts of bad guys.

“Using facial recognition technology, you could point your phone’s camera at a crowd, tap into a biometric database and then a little bubble could pop up alerting the user if the person standing next to them is on the FBI’s top 10 most wanted list,” Bigham said.

Raytheon BBN Technologies, the company’s advanced research division, helped develop one such app. Called Android Tactical Assault Kit, or ATAK, it allows soldiers to chat, share video, map points of interest, plan routes and share information in real time. One version shows information on wind direction, target zones and altitude to paratroopers while they’re in the middle of a jump.

Raytheon is also developing mixed-reality training software that would use a hands-free device, according to Bigham. A novice tech performing maintenance on a piece of equipment could see all the necessary steps right without having to memorize a manual.

“With this type of technology, you don’t have to learn a task until it’s needed,” Bigham said. “Consider it the ultimate just-in-time training, sort of like Neo in the movie ‘The Matrix,’ where he becomes a kung fu master having hours upon hours of training uploaded to his brain in a few seconds.”

Bigham believes the next big thing in mixed reality lies with advertising and marketing. He and Dr. Darrell Young, a Raytheon engineering fellow and digital imaging scientist, developed an Android app called “My View” that helps consumers find businesses, emergency services, and other important infrastructure.

“The trick is putting everything into context so you don’t overwhelm the user with too much information, showing them only what’s important and relevant to them,” Young said. “The smart application would learn your behavior and patterns, and know you like a particular coffee shop, alerting when you’re close to one and providing a coupon for your favorite mocha latte.”

The My View app could even help issue evacuation routes during a disaster or emergency. Young said that it would need to be a very simple instruction, like a big arrow that reads “Go this way!”

“Pokémon GO is just a game,” Young said. “When it’s a life or death on the line, you want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. You’ve got to provide the right annotation at the right time so it’s easy to acknowledge, easy to dismiss and easy to understand.”

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