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Ready for a VR-enabled work environment?

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is looking to build distributed virtual workspaces by leveraging commercial virtual reality systems for multimodal communications. By integrating speech, gestures, haptics, subvocalizations and 2D and 3D visualizations, DARPA aims to create an environment where teams can efficiently collaborate.

Until recently, VR technology has been too immature to be used for office applications like reading and writing emails and documents, editing briefings and working on a computer. Now, however, headsets can deliver dual 4K-resolution lenses operating at 90Hz, hand controllers can be used as virtual keyboards, and software development platforms can support virtual and augmented reality application development, DARPA said in a recent presolicitation targeting small business startups. VR infrastructure is now mature enough to support some VR workspaces and could be enhanced to support military operations.

To improve the security of the systems, which are already somewhat private given that users wear headsets and earphones, DARPA suggested developing noise cancelling headsets and microphones that prevent eavesdropping on conversations.  Existing headset hardware, communications tools, external cameras and proximity sensors could prevent tampering and ensure that no other people are nearby while the equipment is being used.

A prototype should demonstrate collaboration among three or more participants in a 3D geospatial environment as they work with text documents, emails, briefing slides and other typical office software. Users should be able to interact with 2D and 3D graphics as well as maps, virtual terrain and analytic data, DARPA said.

Besides being used by the military for intelligence analysis and command and control applications, DARPA said it sees VR-based communications as a partial solution to pandemic-related travel disruptions. Collaborate VR systems can help prevent business interruption, reduce travel costs and improve collaboration – all of which increase business efficiency.

Low-cost VR could also benefits schools, especially science and technology courses where conducting lab exercises in VR would be less expensive and could demonstrate concepts that are too dangerous or impractical for real-life experiments.

Responses are due Oct. 6. Read more here.

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