Submarines of the future could be piloted using virtual reality

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Iurii Kovalenko/123RF
When it comes to exploring groundbreaking new technologies with the potential to shape our future, few companies can measure up to United Kingdom defense giant BAE Systems. From military drones that can be “grown” using chemistry in large-scale labs to energy-scattering deflector shields, BAE has long played a role in bringing sci-fi-sounding tech to life.

Its latest concept? A method for controlling submarines using virtual reality headsets.

The tech would collect data from the various sensors dotted around a submarine, and then relay this information to the submarine captain in the form of a detailed VR simulation, created using the Unity graphics engine. The idea is that this would allow the captain to “teleport” themselves around a simulation of their submarine to get multiple different views of it as they pilot it, a bit like switching perspectives in a racing game — but with the benefit of real-time information.

This could be done either with the captain on board, or from elsewhere, with the craft controlled remotely.

It could also provide additional information about different systems within the sub, thereby making analyzing this data more intuitive. This wouldn’t have to be limited to navigation purposes. For instance, in one example given, VR could be used to check details of the submarine in the event that a pipe or piece of material has to be replaced — such as whether a replacement will fit in particularly narrow parts of the sub.

A demo of the tech was shown off last week at the U.K.’s Virtual Reality World Congress in Bristol. However, don’t necessarily expect it to arrive any time soon. Speaking to the U.K.’s The Sun newspaper, a BAE Systems representative said the project could take decades to be fully completed and implemented, by which point VR technology will have moved on significantly from where it is today.

As the group has told Digital Trends previously, BAE’s work is to keep an eye on the future and make sure it is anticipating where things will go.

“One of the things that we do within BAE Systems is to carry out trend analysis — whether those are political, sociological, environmental or technological,” Nick Colosimo, BAE Systems’ futurist and technologist, told us. “What these trends do is to tell us something about the future, and from that we can generate a series of ‘so what?’ questions about the difference this will make to those of us in defense. What are the things we need to worry about or be aware of, and how do we best stay on the front foot?”

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