Although commercial and consumer industries have been investing in extended reality (XR) for decades, recent advances have expanded the number of potential applications for the U.S. military. Indeed, in February 2022, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering identified human-machine interfaces for XR as 1 of 14 critical technology areas for the Department of Defense (DOD). As DOD increases spending on XR and related applications, Congress may consider the implications for defense authorizations and appropriations, military force structure, and cybersecurity.
XR encompasses three main categories of physical and digital environments:
- Virtual reality (VR), a fully immersive digital environment (e.g., video games that place the user within the virtual world of the game).
- Augmented reality (AR), an overlay of digital objects on physical environments (e.g., Instagram filters that overlay preset digital effects on a user’s videos or photographs).
- Mixed reality (MR), a hybrid of physical and digital environments in which physical and digital objects can interact. Unlike AR, MR could enable a user to manipulate physical or digital objects and share their view of those objects with other users within the same mixed reality environment (e.g., collaboratively marking adversary troop locations on a projected digital map).