Monday, July 25, 2005


A "Killer App." for Virtual Reality

I wonder if global communication is fast enough for a vehicle mounted remote control weapon on a Humvee in Iraq to be operated from the United States. I think the signal delay up to a geostationary communication satellite is around an eighth of a second. The time needed for a signal to go from the combat zone to a remote gun operator and back to the weapon over such a connection would take about half a second. That would triple the apparent reaction time of the telecommuting gunner, which might still be acceptable. Transferring the signal from the combat zone to the remote gunner by low earth orbit satellites instead might get the total delay below 0.050 seconds. Surely that would be fast enough. Perhaps robot gunners on manned vehicles could be a stepping stone for testing unmanned ground combat vehicle technology and tactics without having to make the entire leap to unmanned systems at once.

Obviously it would add to the vehicle's available cargo capacity if one of the crewmen weren't really there in person. It would also reduce logistics requirements since the telecommuting soldier wouldn't need supplies shipped into the theater of operations. And if the remote control station for the gun is located in America then the telecommuting gunner could go home to his family at the end of his shift. There are obvious disadvantages to this arrangement. A telecommuting weapons crewman can't get out of the vehicle and help do something in person. Communication with the remote gunner would be more difficult without body language and might be interrupted by jamming or equipment failure. These problems might be offset by advantages a remote gunner could have. A virtually present crewman could call a supervisor or specialist (such as translators, intelligence specialists, technicians, doctors, or assistant gunners) over to his remote console for advice or assistance if his team encountered something unusual or heavy combat occurred. Another advantage would be that a gunner telecommuting from the United States could operate in a comfortable environment and would therefore be immune to fatigue from environmental effects. If the crew in the vehicle really needed warm bodies for some task, they could always bring an extra person in the space that is freed up by having a telecommuting gunner.

Maybe Xbox Live and similar video game systems will give Western nations a valuable edge in future war by providing a large pool of potential recruits who are already used to remotely coordinating activities with geographically dispersed team members in chaotic situations. In the past nations showcased their citizens' capacity for military prowess at archery or martial arts competitions and we now do it at Olympic shooting matches, airshow aerobatic demonstrations, and other events. Perhaps the future arena for such demonstrations of martial skill will be at video game tournaments.

Any advice on the concept from satellite communication or remote gunner platform experts would be appreciated.

Neat idea, but it reminds me of the lag problem I had when I first starting playing Quake on a dial-up connection with a bad "ping."

If the remote vehicle was operated from a secure facility in country, the lag would be nearly zero.

The operator couldn't go home at the end of the day, but he (or she) would be much safer. Under such circumstances we would be much more likely to have women in combat.

This wouldn't necessarily be an armed Hummer. The same principle would hold for UAV's, and perhaps even robotic infantry.
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