The Telegraph is assessing how the defence sector is spearheading a collaboration with academics to develop cutting-edge technologies and find real, practical uses for them. From “mixed reality” to long-range threat detection, university researchers are pushing boundaries – with a helping hand from industry. BAE Systems works closely with academia including five strategic-partner universities to develop defence technology.

“There’s an awful lot of hype around these products, most of which aren’t fit for purpose,” says Professor Bob Stone, Director of the University of Birmingham’s Human Interface Technologies Team. “We need academic research to evaluate what works and what doesn’t.” Professor Bob Stone oversees PhD student Chris Bibb, who’s investigating how humans interact with mixed reality – which combines virtual and augmented reality (AR) with the physical world. Chris has just completed a PhD studentship focusing on command and control situations, funded under the Industrial Cooperative Awards in Science and Technology (ICASE), and supported by BAE Systems.

Chris’ research involved evaluating how people respond when they confront the physical objects overlaid with the virtual information. He looked at headsets, holograms, touchscreens, eye tracking and more. His work has helped inform future projects such as BAE Systems’ “wearable cockpit” – in which controls become increasingly virtual; and he’s also helped create a prototype mixed-reality command-and-control table. This is a physical table overlaid with virtual information, which would allow one commander to oversee a whole fleet of platforms within one centralised display.

“Chris has been drilling down to see if these products are at the level of maturity where they can be used in industry,” says Professor Bob Stone. For example, Chris might monitor eye movements, pupil size, physical gestures and physiological responses such as cortisone levels to understand and assess the mental workload of users.
Dr Rachel Geatches, technology manager at BAE Systems added “Chris’ research makes up a portfolio of work sponsored by BAE Systems, and the company aims to increase the number of researchers in collaboration in the coming years.”
The Birmingham team is also investigating the most effective way to train military field medics in evacuating injured crew in an emergency: should medics be trained with a real or a virtual mannequin, for instance, and could they use haptic gloves, which give the impression of sensations but operate in a virtual environment?

Find out more about the Human Interface Technologies ‘HIT’ team research and read the full article.