The Oculus Rift headset immerses its wearer in a virtual world, a fact that excites game developers. But the Norwegian Armed Forces might have a more practical use for Oculus Rift than playing war games—it’s testing whether troops can use the hardware to drive actual tanks.
Part of the motivation behind the test is cost: An Oculus Rift headset, combined with a handful of $2,000 cameras and a commercial PC, is far cheaper than equivalent hardware built for military use. The other part is utility: Oculus Rift, displaying visuals from a handful of those cameras attached to the exterior of a tank, would give the driver a much better view of the surroundings, even with all the hatches closed. As one soldier mentions in a clip displayed on Norwegian television, the subjective effect is akin to a video game like Battlefield, where the player can see the full sweep of the environment around whatever (digital) vehicle they’re driving at the moment.
But the idea of using Oculus Rift as a set of virtual eyes comes with potential drawbacks. First, the headset requires as speedy a connection as possible—as this humorous video demonstrates, any sort of lag can result in Oculus wearers fumbling through all sorts of ridiculously easy tasks. (It probably wouldn’t be quite so humorous if lag resulted in a tank fender-bender.) Second, as Norwegians note in the television clip, the headset can lead to eyestrain if worn for too long.
With Facebook having acquired Oculus Rift, though, chances are pretty good that the platform will continue to receive money and engineering resources for the foreseeable future. That means more entities will feel comfortable exploring uses for the headset beyond games—and beyond even driving tanks.
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