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Virtual reality and its military utility


Virtual reality (VR) is rapidly emerging as a new area of multidisciplinary research. During the last couple of years, its scope has increased beyond academic research, and industry is found making significant investments in this field both for the research as well as for the manufacture of the development of various VR-based products. Various industrial sectors such as information technology, biomedical engineering, structural designing and training aids technology sector are investing into this technology. Military industry which always remains into lookout for new ideas is slowly emerging as one of the major investors into VR. This essay presents an assessment about the relevance of VR for the militaries.

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  1. The Sensorama was a machine that is one of the earliest known examples of immersive, multi-sensory/multimodal technology. Morton Heilig, in the 1950s saw theater as an activity that could encompass all the senses in an effective manner, thus drawing the viewer into the onscreen activity. He dubbed it “Experience Theater”, and detailed his vision of multi-sensory theater in his 1955 paper entitled “The Cinema of the Future”. In 1962, he built a prototype of his vision, dubbed the Sensorama, along with five short films to be displayed in it. Predating digital computing, the Sensorama was a mechanical device, which still functions today. The Sensorama was able to display stereoscopic three-dimensional images in a wide-angle view, provide body tilting, supply stereo sound, and also had tracks for wind and aromas to be triggered during the film. Unfortunately, Heilig was unable to obtain financial backing for his visions and patents, and the Sensorama work was halted and today remains primarily a curiosity in the expansive lore of VR. The details are available at Rheingold (1992).

  2. The term VR was popularized by him in early 1980s. He started a project on “post-symbolic” visual programming language and subsequently stared his company VPL Research which incidentally filed for bankruptcy in 1990. The acquisition of VPL Research’s patent portfolio was done by Sun Microsystems’ in February 1998.

  3.,,sid183_gci213303,00.html and Accessed 12 Sep 2010.

  4. Leonhard Vogelmeier, Harald Neujahr and Dr. Peter Sandl, “Interaction methods for virtual reality applications”, available at Accessed 12 Nov 2010

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  7. For all such systems, the basic components are a human operator, a machine, and a human–machine interface linking the human operator to the machine. In case of a teleoperator system, the machine is an electromechanical tool containing sensors and actuators (telerobot) that efficiently expand the operator's sensorimotor system and thereby allow him/her to sense and manipulate the real environment in new ways. In a virtual environment system, the machine is an appropriately programmed computer. Please refer Durlach and Mavor (1995)

  8. A NATO report titled “Virtual Reality: State of Military Research and Applications in Member Countries”, RTO TECHNICAL REPORT 18, St. Joseph Print Group Inc. St. Joseph Print Group Inc. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 2003.


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  11. For more details please visit and Accessed 23 Dec 2010.

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  15. In conversation with Richard D Fisher Jr. a US based expert on China and author of book China’s Military Modernization (Praeger Security International, London, 2008).

  16. For more on this please refer Ch11by Fabrizia Mantovani and Gianluca Castelnuovo, “Sense of Presence in Virtual Training: Enhancing Skills Acquisition and Transfer of Knowledge through Learning Experience in Virtual Environments” in Riva et al. (2003).

  17. Accessed 12 Jan 2011.

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  21. Army Uses Virtual Reality Soldier Training, 01 Nov 2010,

  22. As per the Defence Market Research Reports titled “The Military Simulation and Virtual Training Market 2010–2020”. This report has been published by is a leading online business information aggregator. Information is available at


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Correspondence to Ajey Lele.

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Lele, A. Virtual reality and its military utility. J Ambient Intell Human Comput 4, 17–26 (2013).

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  • Virtual reality (VR)
  • Real world
  • Virtual world
  • Simulators
  • Military
  • Warfare