While augmented reality is still struggling to develop a ubiquity of relevance in the consumer realm, it's going great guns in the professional world and nowhere is it more crucial and more astounding than for fighter pilots.
BAE Systems, long provider of defence technology solutions, showed off just how advanced and how well integrated high quality AR can be when it let Pocket-lint and a few members of the public go heads-on with a series of its most developed head-mounted display helmets for fighter pilots.
The minute you slip the helmet on, the virtual display is incredibly clear. If anything, it's so clear that the reality behind it frankly becomes boring, although we expect that might not be the case if you're 50,000ft up travelling at Mach II with your hair on fire.
Very simply, as you turn your head about, your screen displays a series of green lines to indicate bearings, speed and, most importantly, other aircraft. In our demonstration, there were three enemy vessels marked as a square, a triangle and a diamond. The shapes guide you to turn your head about the real space until you have them right in front of your virtual eyes and that might mean your looking straight up or even through the floor beneath your feet. Once you can see them, you're locked on and may fire when ready. Sadly, our demonstration stopped short of blowing drones to smithereens with a couple of nifty sidewinders.
While none of this is obviously simple in the normal sense of the word, the tracking system itself is one of the more straightforward parts of the equation. With the pilot's head always in a relatively predictable place, it's "simply" a case of a two-sensor array above and behind which looks out for the positions of a series of LED markers placed strategically over the surface of the helmet. With that information, the AR system can figure out which way you're looking at any given moment and pull in the appropriate virtual imagery to lay over what you can see in front of you. The basic nature of what's displayed and the fact that all of the information required is stored locally helps to keep it both smooth and incredibly accurate.
Of course, this kind of AR technology doesn't have to be for pilots, and BAE Systems also had mock-ups of how the same kind of information can be used for ground troops as well. And if you'd rather not invest in helmets, then there's always the good old, dashboard style, HUD instead.
So, the verdict? Where do we sign up and how long till we get the uniform?