Virtual Reality Dome to Assess Soldier Thinking in Virtual Combat Environment

Natick's new virtual reality dome will enable researchers to assess the impact of the environment on Soldier cognition, including decision-making, spatial memory or wayfinding. Researchers will also be able to assess the impact of new equipment on cognitive abilities. Photo: David Kamm, NSRDECNatick's new virtual reality dome will enable researchers to assess the impact of the environment on Soldier cognition, including decision-making, spatial memory or wayfinding. Researchers will also be able to assess the impact of new equipment on cognitive abilities. Photo: David Kamm, NSRDEC

It’s not the Star Trek holodeck but a computer-generated reality “dome” in Massachusetts should immerse warfighters in a virtual environment that not only tests their skills, but allows Army researchers to assess soldier cognitive abilities.

The virtual reality dome is the creation of researchers at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, where a Cognitive Science and Applications Team hopes to study the impact of real-world operational situations on decision-making, spatial memory and wayfinding.

The simulations will be modeled on real-world locations.

“The integration of multiple input modalities, along with multisensory feedback, increases the realism, immersion and engagement on behalf of users subjected to prolonged, workload-intensive activities,” cognitive science team leader Dr. Caroline Mahoney said.

The dome is a concave virtual-reality system that provides a full 180-degree horizontal field, using high-density, front-projection to create a high-resolution, visual world.

Other scientists at the Natick lab are developing metrics for measuring cognitive workload during mission tasks. This will enable researchers to assess how new equipment and technology born by soldiers effects their cognitive abilities, according to Mahoney.

The data from those measurements will eventually help in the design and development of soldier technology and equipment by center researchers and outside equipment manufacturers.

Down the road the lab will add to the dome’s capabilities. New features will include whole-body motion tracking, low-frequency vibration, directional wind and “vibro-tactile collision feedback” – merging vibration and touch to give participants a sense of physical constraint.

“In the coming years, additional input modalities and multisensory feedback will be developed and integrated into the system to increase immersion,” Mahoney said.

Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.