Pentagons 3-D Video R&D Could Improve Videoconferencing

Three-dimensional visualization technologies used for warfare planning also could be used to bring a third dimension to videoconferencing.

In the long-established pattern of military-initiated technologies inching their way into enterprise applications, the Pentagons current effort to improve real-time mission-critical communications at the battlefront has the potential to spur major advances in video streaming and make videoconferencing a more widely accepted business service.

Todays warfare planning and preparation -- particularly for hostile terrains like Afghanistan -- rely heavily on three-dimensional modeling that allows a view of battlefields from all angles. Products from Lockheed Martin Corp. and Harris Corp. convert satellite images and aerial photography to produce 3-D fly-throughs or walk-throughs of the terrain, which can be transmitted to the front line or to fighter pilots in real time. The main objective is to improve information sharing and reduce the time it takes to track and hone in on a target of attack.

"We love video; we dont go anywhere without it," said Arthur Money, former assistant secretary of defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence. "[Radio frequencies] and standards and preservation of the spectrum is an issue." Money spoke Tuesday at a summit in Arlington, Va., sponsored by Silicon Graphics, Inc., where he serves on the board of directors.

SGI, a Mountain View, Calif., developer of high-performance computing, data management and visualization products, supplied visualization technology for modeling and simulation in the development of the Pentagons Joint Strike Fighter program. Last week, Lockheed Martin won a JSF contract worth up to $200 billion.

Three-dimensional visualization technologies used for warfare planning also could be used to bring a third dimension to videoconferencing and mitigate the awkwardness of todays video streaming applications, according to John Burwell, senior director for Government Industry at SGI.

"Videoconferencing is an area where collaborative visualization developments can really revolutionize the [telecommunications networking] industry because it lets you make eye contact," Burwell told eWEEK. "Instead of just streaming two-dimensional video, why not project it back into 3-D? You could be at your terminal, and you could rotate the image around and change the eye point, re-creating the conference remotely."

Like commercial telecommunications service providers and enterprise network managers, the Pentagon faces many challenges bringing data and video to the final points where it is needed most. The so-called last mile bottleneck in the commercial sector is translated into "the last tactical mile" in the military. More efficient bandwidth allocation techniques on the battlefield could eventually be adopted for more efficient bandwidth allocation in businesses.

"How do you use the bandwidth you have well? How do you dynamically allocate it to the right person at the right time?" said Robert Hutten, deputy director for strategic plans and policy at the Defense Information Systems Agency, echoing an often-heard question among enterprise network managers.