Engineers from BAE Systems have collaborated with University of Birmingham academics to develop new augmented reality systems that could revolutionise complex emergency response and military battlefield operations.

Called ‘mixed reality,’ the revolutionary concept enables the operator to view themselves and their surroundings along with virtual images, video feeds, objects and avatars, seamlessly bringing together the critical battlefield elements in a single place.

The team is focused on development of a briefcase-sized portable command centre that can be easily transported and set-up anywhere to tackle emergency scenarios, and a wearable cockpit to enhance a pilot’s situational awareness.

BAE Systems Futurist Nick Colosimo said: "Our unique approach will identify the optimal balance between the real world and the virtual – enhancing the user’s situational awareness to provide battle-winning and life-saving tools and insights wherever they may be.

"Through collaborating with the University of Birmingham, we are able to bring together some of the best minds available in this subject area to develop these concepts and evolve the technology itself."

University of Birmingham Simulation & Human Factors specialist professor Bob Stone said: "Being able to physically manipulate virtual objects in the real world has been challenging scientists for 40 years.

"Our unique approach will identify the optimal balance between the real world and the virtual."

"Our work with BAE Systems shows just how close we are to delivering the next generation of advanced mixed reality interfaces for future applications not only in defence, but also in such important domains as engineering and healthcare."

The portable command centre concept uses commercial technology to create a semi-virtual environment that can be transported in a briefcase and set up anywhere from within a tent to an office to combat emergency scenarios, such as an outbreak of fire or an act of terrorism.

After putting on a virtual reality headset and interactive gloves, the user can monitor situations anywhere in the world, zooming in and manipulating environments, directing soldiers and pulling in virtual video screens that allow them to monitor news channels and feeds from unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Virtual Cockpit is created by a headset that offers infinitely reconfigurable virtual displays and controls, enabling pilots to customise their interface with the aircraft based on their own preferences, mission objectives and the task immediately at hand.

Image: The portable command centre can be easily deployed and set-up anywhere to tackle emergency scenarios. Photo: courtesy of BAE Systems.