The Gulf Between High End Military VR and Consumer VR is Rapidly Shrinking


In this video, the US Army demonstrates their proprietary Dismounted Soldier Training System (DSTS), a wearable VR system used to teach troops tactics and teamwork inside a virtual environment. It represents the current state of the art in military VR training, but rapid developments in the commercial VR sector mean it could be obsoleted by your home entertainment system in just a couple of years.

Virtual reality used to be the purview of government funded bodies and the military. Now of course, VR is heading towards a civillian market, albeit with very different R&D goals. So how does the cutting edge in Military virtual reality stand up to todays rapidly evolving entertainment focused VR technology?

Well, you can judge for yourself, as the 4th Joint Communication Support Element at the Air Force Base, Fort Stewart, Georgia demonstrate a typical training scenario using DSTS. The system is described as an “…innovative, out-of-the-box training system designed to be flexible, easily portable and transportable…”. The system can be rolled into use in under 4 hours, and can deliver ‘limitless’ training scenarios.

DSTS Demonstrated by the Netherlands Army at the 7th US Army Joint Multinational Training Command
DSTS Demonstrated by the Netherlands Army at the 7th US Army Joint Multinational Training Command

The video was filmed back in 2013, but considering the glacial pace technology evolves in government funded bodies, DSTS represents the cutting-edge in the military sector. Indeed, the system was first openly demo’d to attendees of the oft military focused simulation conference I/ITSEC back in 2011.

DSTS Demonstrated by the Netherlands Army at the 7th US Army Joint Multinational Training Command
DSTS Demonstrated by the Netherlands Army at the 7th US Army Joint Multinational Training Command

DSTS is a system developed by Intelligent Decisions and apparently represents years of research and millions in development costs. The visuals are provided by CryEngine with processing power delivered via back-mounted computers fed to stereo, helmet mounted displays. Audio is delivered via headphones within the helmet and body rotation and position are tracked by wearable IMUs.

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For more on the system, feast your eyes on this painfully stereotypical promotional video.

It’s clearly a neat solution and I can see the instructional power it could potentially leverage for military personnel training. However, it’s indicative of VR’s rapid technical evolution that there are products on their way to market that would allow the average VR geek to build a system not just comparable, but in many ways superior to the DSTS system.

If you chose to build your own DSTS, you have have a surprising range of potential options, most of which could be found on this very website.

For IMU trackers you could opt for YEI’s PrioVR body tracking system or perhaps Noitom Technology’s Perception Neuron solution.

YEI's PrioVR Motion Capture IMU System
YEI’s PrioVR Motion Capture IMU System

For your HMD, an Oculus Rift Crescent Bay might work or perhaps Valve’s Steam VR system and the HTC Vive, both of which will probably arrive in the next 12 months. And that’s without considering Valve’s powerful and precise room-space tracking system, Lighthouse.

The Oculus Rift Crescent Bay HMD

For your weaponry, you’ve got the force recoil delights of HapTech’s (formerly Striker) controller, perhaps utilising a Sixense STEM unit for positional gun tracking.

HapTech’s (formerly Striker) Force Recoil Weapon Controller

Throw on a back-top harness for your gaming laptop, plug it all in and you have a system that arguably outclasses the military equivalent. And whilst you could also argue that the majority of these systems are not yet available for the average joe to purchase, this is all coming and soon too.

In short, it looks as if reversal of the traditional gulf between government funded virtual reality and consumer VR is continuing apace. At this rate, the military will be opting to piece their training systems together from the shelves of Best Buy. Oh my, how far we’ve come.

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Based in the UK, Paul has been immersed in interactive entertainment for the best part of 27 years and has followed advances in gaming with a passionate fervour. His obsession with graphical fidelity over the years has had him branded a ‘graphics whore’ (which he views as the highest compliment) more than once and he holds a particular candle for the dream of the ultimate immersive gaming experience. Having followed and been disappointed by the original VR explosion of the 90s, he then founded to follow the new and exciting prospect of the rebirth of VR in products like the Oculus Rift. Paul joined forces with Ben to help build the new Road to VR in preparation for what he sees as VR’s coming of age over the next few years.