Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are an invaluable military asset. According to the Department of Defense UAV Roadmap, the DOD has invested more than $4 billion in UAV development, procurement, and operations since the 1990s and is projected to exceed $10 billion before the end of the decade.
However, in order for the potential of UAVs to be reached, significant human interface issues must be overcome. These challenges arise from limitations in the current generation of systems used by ground-based operators to command and control UAVs.
The goal of the Battlespace initiative at Iowa State University’s renowned Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC) is to design, develop, implement, and test the hardware, software, and aeronautical systems necessary to create immersive ground control stations based on virtual reality technology. These systems will give both pilots and commanders on the ground a more natural, immersive experience of flying multiple UAVs.
Our approach inverts the typical paradigm for conveying information to remote operators of UAVs. Rather than augmenting real-time visual information (typically from cameras) with information generated from other sensors and systems (e.g., heads-up display), we are using a virtual environment of the operating theater as the primary interface context, augmenting the spatial and temporal context with the myriad of information sources available in a modern military engagement. We are also exploring, developing, and measuring the effectiveness of new human interface techniques to enable remote operators to effectively control swarms of semi-autonomous air vehicles.