Decision Advantage, one of the six “Force Design Imperatives” in Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday’s NAVPLAN 2022 places a high priority on the ability of naval forces to “outrun, decide, and combat any adversary by accelerating our decision cycles with secure, survivable, and cyber-resilient networks.
Two Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) students, U.S. Navy Lt. JaMerra Turner and Lt. Joanna Cruz, explore the application of emerging augmented reality technologies and how sailors can use them to advance the decision cycle. As a thesis for their master’s degree at NPS, titled “Supporting Mission Planning with a Persistent Augmented Environment,” Cruz and Turner’s research provides insight into the feasibility and effectiveness of this new form of data representation and of user interaction, and its ability to support faster and improved situational awareness and decision-making in a complex operational technology environment.
Turner, now a graduate of the NPS Cyber Systems and Operations program with a master’s degree in computer science, was looking for a partner for her thesis. Browsing through other students’ research, she found Cruz, a student in the computer science program at the Institute for Modeling Virtual Environments and Simulations (MOVES), who wanted to focus her research on augmented reality.
“Joanna had this brilliant idea of combining her expertise in virtual environments with my skills as a professional information officer,” Turner said. “With my knowledge of communication networks and its ability to create augmented realities, we could develop something that would significantly improve the decision-making capabilities of high-level decision-makers in the field.”
A “persistent augmented environment” is a concept that the students’ thesis supervisor, Dr. Amela Sadagic, has been working on for some time and consists of two main elements. “Persistent” means that a diverse set of data is collected and visualized in real time, and that data sets are updated and corrected as quickly as possible, ensuring that the most accurate information is available to operators who need it. need to support their decision making. . An “augmented environment” refers to computer-generated visual elements superimposed on visual information from the real environment. Cruz described it as “Pokémon Go on ships” or “Tactical Pokémon Go”.
With their thesis, the two students wanted to use simulated data of communication systems and cyber-network operations, reporting, and resource management decision-making to demonstrate their product. The use of augmented reality screens allowed operators to see each other and discern key non-verbal cues typically used in group discussions. At the same time, they could also see the elements of the simulated operational environment and interact with them.
When a carrier battle group is deployed, ship lines of communication are critically important. Between several forms of radio frequencies, types of satellites and the litany of other means ships need to talk to each other, there is bound to be confusion. A ship may have a certain system out of order, and other ships must be aware of this failure in a timely manner.
“Imagine that each ship had a system where it could automatically enter data in real time, and each ship in the attack group would know immediately. [through an augmented reality interface]“, said Cruz. “With our program, the communications officer of each ship could have a helmet with this constantly updated data, and all that he would have to do to determine which systems are down and which systems are functional would be to look at the ship they are trying to reach.”
Turner and Cruz designed and developed a simple 3D visualization prototype of the augmented reality interface’s appearance, then tested its usability with 27 naval officers. They focused on the performance and user understanding of the prototype which depicted enhanced naval combat cyberspace in augmented reality aboard multiple ships. An additional objective was to gain a better understanding of how this type of system could be used to aid in effective mission planning at the tactical level. And the results have been very positive and encouraging, they said.
“[Users] found the interface easy to understand and use, and the prototype was called a valuable alternative to their current practices,” said Turner.
Although the research has focused solely on communications, Cruz and Turner suggest the concept could be extended to cover multiple systems aboard Navy ships. From damage control conditions to weapons systems, key personnel from each ship could simply put on a helmet and be instantly updated on the rest of the strike group.
“It can be used by different war zones and it can go in different readiness conditions,” Cruz said. “We can enter data regarding air warfare, surface warfare, submarine warfare, ballistic warfare, attack warfare, and the list goes on and on.”
Both students were very pleased with their final thesis and its potential to support a key NAVPLAN 2020 initiative. The interdisciplinary approach, capitalizing on each student’s unique area of expertise to advance a topic of study relevant to the Navy, is a rare opportunity except for NPS students.
“Having the opportunity for two people from two different communities to combine their efforts on a MOVES-related thesis and come up with a whole new idea and start implementing it has been a very rewarding and satisfying experience,” said Cruz. “The world is changing, technology is improving at an incredible rate, and NPS is doing everything it can to stay on the cutting edge of innovation.”
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