The US Military Is Building Its Own Metaverse

Red6 Berkut flight aircraft flying over seaside ridge landscape at sunset - Mike Killian Photography/Red 6

The US Military Is Building Its Own Metaverse
Print Title: “Not-So-Basic Training”
WIRED, May 17, 2022
By Will Knight

This article is part of the WIRED AI Database:

Application: Human-computer interaction
End User: Government
Sector: Defense
Source Data: Sensors, Synthetic data
Technology: Machine learning, Machine vision

“Defense tech companies have latched on to the metaverse hype—but what they’re building will be a far cry from Meta’s virtual world.”


On May 10, two fighter pilots performed a high-altitude proto-metaverse experiment. A few thousand feet above the desert of California, in a pair of Berkut 540 jets, they donned custom AR headsets to connect to a system that overlaid a ghostly, glowing image of a refueling aircraft flying alongside them in the sky. One of the pilots then performed a refueling maneuver with the virtual tanker while the other looked on. Welcome to the fledgling military metaverse.


It isn’t only Silicon Valley that’s gripped by metaverse mania these days. Just as tech companies and corporations are scrambling to develop strategies for virtual worlds, many defense startups, contractors, and funders are increasingly talking up the metaverse, even if its definition and utility aren’t always clear.


The key technologies needed for the metaverse—augmented and virtual reality, headmounted displays, 3D simulations and virtual environments built by artificial intelligence—are already found in the defense world. The result is a lot less polished, cutesy, and spacious than Mark Zuckerberg’s virtual world vision, but that’s partly the point. And there’s a good chance that the underlying tech could take off, even if it stutters in the civilian realm.


A mix of augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and video game graphics, for instance, have enabled fighter pilots to practice dogfighting against virtual opponents, including Chinese and Russian warplanes, while pulling several Gs. Red 6, the company that’s developing the technology, says this delivers a far more realistic test of a pilot’s abilities than a conventional flight simulator. “We can fly against whatever threat we want,” says Daniel Robinson, founder and CEO of Red 6. “And that threat could be controlled either by an individual remotely or by artificial intelligence.”


Red6’s AR technology has to work in more extreme conditions, with lower latency and higher reliability than consumer AR or VR headsets. Robinson adds that the company is now working on a platform that will allow many different scenarios to be represented in augmented or virtual reality. “What we’re building is really a military metaverse,” he says. “It’s like a multiplayer video game in the sky.”

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About the Author:

Will Knight is a senior writer for WIRED, covering artificial intelligence. He was previously a senior editor at MIT Technology Review, where he wrote about fundamental advances in AI and China’s AI boom. Before that, he was an editor and writer at New Scientist. He studied anthropology and journalism in the UK before turning his attention to machines.