Augmented Reality for the US Military Dogs

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October 13, 2020

It’s true that dogs are a man's best friend, this is especially true with the armed forces. Military working dogs are used for scouting and finding explosives, along with other reconoscence missions. It is essential that these dogs get commands from their handler to keep them safe and to help the dog along with the mission.

Just think, giving Augmented Reality technology to working dogs sounds like a great idea. One of the best things about using AR to guide military dogs is that they are already wearing military goggles for eye protection. The Army Research Office, part of the U.S Army Combat Capabilities Development is working on this new technology. AR is being developed for dogs with the aim of commanders being able to help get their companions where they need to be. This also helps soldiers keep out of harm's way as they can be further distanced from their canine companion. 

Not only this but it’s bridging the communication gap between human and canine. The need for better communication between human and canine is well known and AR can possibly bridge this gap.

An example is when the canine cant see their trainer, they might lose focus and become disoriented and off task. This gives a permanent link between canine and human.

Dr. A.J. Peper founded Command Sight in 2017, after identifying the need for better human-animal communication on the field. Peper was surprised by initial feedback from his proof of concept, “the system could fundamentally change how military canines are deployed in the future.”

The AR tech that is being trialed is specially designed to fit the canine's shape and needs. There is a visual indicator that shows the dog directions as to where he needs to go, he is reacting to visual cues in his goggles. 

The handler now has the ability to see exactly what the dog sees through the AR headset

“Augmented reality works differently for dogs than for humans,” said Dr. Stephen Lee, an ARO senior scientist. “AR will be used to provide dogs with commands and cues; it’s not for the dog to interact with it like a human does. This new technology offers us a critical tool to better communicate with military working dogs.”

For now, the prototype used is wired, similar to being on a leash for the dog. Researchers are currently developing how to do this wirelessly for their next stage of development

“We are still in the beginning research stages of applying this technology to dogs, but the results from our initial research are extremely promising,” Peper states. “Much of the research to date has been conducted with my rottweiler, Mater. His ability to generalize from other training to working through the AR goggles has been incredible. We still have a way to go from a basic science and development perspective before it will be ready for the wear and tear our military dogs will place on the units.”

The research conducted focuses on how the canine eye perceives the world.

“We will be able to probe canine perception and behavior in a new way with this tool,” Lee said.

Military working dogs are currently directed by hand signals or laser pointers, which works well when there is line of sight. The issue arises when the canine can no longer see the handler, this can become a safety issue not only for the canine, but the handler too.

Equipping Augmented reality goggles to the worker dog makes sense doesn't it? This could offer special forces and their canines companions a new way to communicate.

“The military working dog community is very excited about the potential of this technology,” Lee said. “This technology really cuts new ground and opens up possibilities that we haven’t considered yet.”

It’s not a huge step to put AR technology into what they are already wearing. It makes adoption of this technology cheap and effective. It’s set to greatly improve communication between canine and handler.

“Even without the augmented reality, this technology provides one of the best camera systems for military working dogs,” Lee states. “Now, cameras are generally placed on a dog’s back, but by putting the camera in the goggles, the handler can see exactly what the dogs sees and it eliminates the bounce that comes from placing the camera on the dog’s back.”

The researchers have planned to spend another two years refining the product and making it wireless. The Army Research Office is proving additional funding for the next phase of development.

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Virtual Reality Training for Construction is Coming Fast

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October 6, 2020

Many say that the best learning happens on the job, with this being very true as you get a practical sense of how you are going to perform your task. The best situation for someone who is starting their new job is to practice physically but without any risks. VR offers this and with the right software and devices it’s possible to simulate a students work environment with a great degree of accuracy.

Google came up with a test by creating two teams to compete for making the best cup of espresso. One team learnt their skills by watching training videos on YouTube, the other used VR headsets to learn. Neither team made an exceptional cup of espresso, but the VR group certainly made fewer mistakes and also brewed their cup in a quicker manner.

One industry where VR is shining is in the construction industry where VR is used to train employees in a safe, effective way. Hong Kong-based Gammon Construction Ltd. and San Francisco-based Bechtel are currently using VR in their training programs. Using wearable technology, the workers can train in a safe environment without the risk of injury, making the training process more enjoyable.

“VR creates a much more immersive and engaging environment for training the workforce,” said Chris Bunk, HCS chief operating officer.

Four training modules have already been created states Bunk, and a new module is launched about every six weeks. The training modules cover a range of topics such as forklift training, scaffolding and metal worker training and hazard identification training. All being undertaken in complete safety.

Bunk said “People go up on a high rise doing iron work and when they get out on the beam for the first time the heights get to them more than they expected and they may feel like they have to cling to the beam or use their fall protection,” and also added “We give them the opportunity to get acclimated to that environment beforehand.” 

“The course has virtual hazards like somebody walking up right in front of you,” added bunk “That’s the type of thing that’s very difficult to simulate in real training because you don’t want someone to accidentally get hit.”

Something really promising about VR training is its ability to give the user an enjoyable experience. “Everyone is very engaged, sometimes even friendly competitive,” Bunk said. “You go from people fumbling with their phones, half falling asleep from archaic PowerPoints to something where people are getting up, engaged and enriched in the material.”

Word is spreading throughout the construction industry about the benefits of training employees with VR. “It’s to the point where training is now something that someone is asking for which is very rare in a lot of industries” Bunk states.

While VR hasn’t saturated the construction industry yet, like it has in the health care sector, it’s plain to see it’s coming fast for construction training.

A chief training officer Lynne Bamford at Northshore University Health System in Chicago said that there is potential for VR training, but also a hesitancy to spend money, as revenues across its health care industry has declined. Budgeting for training as a whole is an ongoing balancing act. “Our budgets are in really bad shape. So it’s very difficult to say I want to spend more money on a virtual reality training session” she explains.

Bamford stated that she could envisage VR being used for simulation training, to acclimatize people to their future setting, simulate real operations thus developing employee confidence. However she is skeptical regarding its use in more interactive situations.

Despite this Bunk says that VR holds much promise as it continues to evolve and mature. He predicts that VR is going to become more commonplace in industrial training over the next few years, resulting in more efficient and safer training.

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The Oculus for Business Solution

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September 30, 2020

Oculus for Business is a Virtual Reality platform for enterprises, providing software and a structure to manage VR deployment with a tailored experience. Most importantly, it gives organisations control over a fleet of headsets, including enterprise-grade customer support provided by Oculus. Oculus’ business solution offers a great user experience as well as cutting edge data security and privacy.

The first thing you need is adequate hardware to support the VR devices and the solution. See our last blog post on the upcoming Oculus Quest 2. Also needed is the ability to manage your VR deployments. Oculus’ platform gives control, ability for good integration and content to run on the headsets. 

If you lack the internal team to set up and deploy Oculus for Business on your devices, or don’t even have your devices yet, Oculus has made it easy to have a third party company, such as iTRA design and deploy your VR experience, while you maintain all the control.

What can your business gain from switching to Oculus for business? VR technology is proven in training. VR can give a more hands on feel with prototyping new products. It can also be a cool way for co workers to interact.

Oculus for business gives your company the ability to manage the fleet of devices and Oculus provides decent technical support for the VR solution. Oculus knows It can prove costly to call in IT experts to help with maintenance, so they have engineered their platform for ease of setup and maintaining the fleet.

Oculus for business has been designed for devices to remain on premises, nothing worse than workers taking company devices home and downloading games or other trivial things.

Oculus recommends having a good approach to implementation of their product. Appoint someone who can be responsible for driving the solution. Organisation is key for getting this product to work for your company, this will improve efficiency and reduce cost of implementation and resources spent.

VR is coming of age and appears to be a great solution for training and other company projects, whether it’s prototyping, showcasing new products, or if it's training in a safe, socially distanced environment. Not only should this technology make your company more efficient, but your workers will love the new technology and trying out the new gear. The best thing is that Oculus for business gives your company more control over its own assets.

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Tips for Working From Home During Coronavirus Pandemic

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March 31, 2020

Around the globe, people are being forced into self isolation. It’s all happening suddenly and people are upset and stressed out. Unfortunately corona-virus lock downs are going to last a while and we need to adapt to a new way of life.

To work remotely means different things to different people. It can involve undertaking various work tasks from home that can be done online, such as sending emails, data entry, working on spreadsheets and video conferencing without being physically present in your workplace.

More and more people are having to work from home. Kitchens and dining rooms and other spaces are becoming work spaces, filled with computers, papers and other work related materials. Childrens bedrooms are becoming places to learn, which can be upsetting for the child. It can be hard for children to adjust leading to boredom and unsettled behaviour which is taxing for parents. Less space, more clutter, confusion and frayed tempers lead to less productivity.

When you bring work home it can create stress and mess, not knowing where and how to set up. It is a good idea to introduce a new structure of when and where you do your work tasks, this can minimize stress and make the environment fit for work purposes. Also important is to consider the people you live with and their needs. It is always a good idea to have a clean and tidy space to work from. 

Ways to improve things, optimize your at home work space:

Firstly it is important to be organised. Create/Give members of your household their own workstation. The workstation should suit the members needs and the requirements for their tasks that are being undertaken. 

Work or education activities like video conferencing can be loud and disruptive, assign those to a place where noise can be dampened or a good distance from others so it will not disturb their work.

If someone needs quietness and concentration, they could be provided with earplugs or noise canceling headphones or a quieter part of the house. White noise also helps.

Consider where traffic is going to be and choose and create workspaces accordingly. For example don’t set up next to a door or hallway or other thoroughfare that is frequently used.

Have set spaces that are ‘work-free zones’. Choose and allocate zones to yourself and other household members. It’s best to keep work out of places of leisure such as living rooms and home theaters where possible. Dining rooms, kitchens and laundries do not make great work spaces either. If you have children, try not to set up a workspace in a place where they like to play as those places will be quite distracting. A workstation in the right place will aid in concentration and comfort and over all make it easier to achieve a good work-life balance.

Having a break schedule is a good idea as it adds structure. Generally the motivator for your work will be the task you are trying to achieve and wanting to put in the same effort you would in your regular work place. Scheduled breaks help keep the mind crisp and on task and are very important for healthy and well being. Also this shows other house members how work life should be.

A healthy lifestyle is always important, make time for exercise and outside activities. Find other, fun activities other than working, eating and sleeping. Activities like drawing, arts and crafts gives you something to have fun with and keeps you healthy both mentally and physically. Activities should, of course, adhere to current social distancing guidelines

If you need to self isolate, it’s still Imperative to maintain physical activity. Go outside, if the weather allows. Find an indoor activity you enjoy, like table tennis or an interactive video game if that is your thing.

Take some time to create fun activities for all members of the household, important that it fits in not only with yours, but other household members' schedules. If it’s noisy like a children's play area, don’t have this near someone who is working.

Create a timetable that has set start and finish times. Children are used to following timetables at school, they have set recess and lunch times. Setting up routines will help make us feel more in control.

Taking these above measures, and staying calm can help us cope in these challenging times.

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Improve Mine Productivity with Augmented and Virtual Reality Technologies

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November 12, 2019

Augmented and Virtual Reality technologies have been around for a while. The potential for these technologies are endless. Mining companies have embraced VR/AR for some time and are always looking to do more. Currently these technologies are, for example, reducing equipment maintenance costs and offering their personnel a safe way to train.

AR and VR technologies are being used widely at both the consumer and commercial levels. Companies like Microsoft and Google are developing their own VR/AR technologies and are competing for their market share. The VR/AR industry is predicted to be worth more than $150 billion worldwide by 2020.

Mining industries utilized VR/AR quite early, as the potential for training is ground breaking. Using these technologies for training not only saves companies money but has been proven that it can be a better way to train employees.

Mining operators have realised the potential to address many issues with VR/AR technology, with improvements in productivity, safety and machinery uptime to name just a few. For mining companies, AR offers training in the real world with helpful overlays. VR replaces the real world with a simulated training environment.

EMIMSAR, an EU funded project, is a system that allows miners to be able to view AR versions of complex equipment on helmet mounted displays. Using sensors to record and analyse temperatures, rates of acceleration and sample noise from sprockets. This allows staff to assess heavy duty components like gears and chains. This data is then given to a knowledge based maintenance system. When combined with background data on components, it creates real time virtual visualisations on the machinery which can be viewed by other miners while working on the same machine.

The EMIMSAR AR system has been developed and used to great success by Germany’s largest coal mining firm RAG, which used it for maintenance planning, loaders and belt conveyors.

Kumba Virtual Reality Centre, which opened in August 2015 has incorporated a 3D stereoscopic theatre and a 3D, 360° cylinder theatre. The 3D simulation creates true to detail mining conditions and creates scenarios such as underground rock falls, that is truly immersive experience for the user.

Rio Tinto has now partnered with New York based Bravo Media to custom design the Oculus Rift experience. It features a computer generated environment that allows the user to fly above the coast of Canada, before taking you for a tour down the Diavik diamond mine.

Grey Properjohn from Australian company Vix Technology wrote in a newsletter "The ability to mix virtual content with reality will provide countless opportunities to improve operational safety and efficiency, as well as bringing the corporate offices even closer to the operations on the ground by connecting people in ways never imagined before,"

He goes on to write "Imagine standing in an underground development heading and becoming visually aware of all the adjacent headings, slopes and declines in the immediate vicinity, or being able to virtualise the trends in ground features like fault-zones or stress-zones… Extend this to drilling from underground and you can virtually eliminate the potential to inadvertently intersect other existing openings.”

"The assessment of mining an open pit through underground workings takes on new meaning if you could actually 'see' the workings. Even from an office environment, users can be immersed in the underground operation tracking the locations of all people and assets within the mine in real-time."

These are just a few examples of how mining companies are using the VR/AR technology. Many more projects are in development that are sure to excite.

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