Yes, the US Navy has an Oculus Rift. More than one, in fact. In Washington, DC, and Marina Del Rey, CA, two parallel laboratories are using virtual reality headsets to help the Navy dream up the next generation of interfaces. With them, future war-fighters could drive a ship with full three-dimensional awareness of their surroundings, or repair high-tech ship parts while collaborating with their designer in real-time, thousands of miles away.


But BlueShark, a joint initiative between the Swampworks division of the Office of Naval Research and the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, isn't actually about virtual reality per se. According to Mark Bolas, one of the USC project directors, VR is the place where the Navy can reach out and touch user interfaces which might not be practical to build this decade, let alone this year, because technologies like holographic displays and augmented reality windows don't yet exist at scale. "But we can mock them all up in the head-mounted display," says Bolas.


In the picture above, according to the Office of Naval Research, a Marine is directing a virtual UAV to fly over a point of interest while gazing into the Rift and using a real touchscreen display. But that's just one user interface, one possible use for the technology dreamed up so far. "The Navy's really using it to figure out what the future sailor is going to expect in 15 years," Bolas tells The Verge.

Photo above: John F. Williams / U.S. Navy / Released
Photos below: Todd Richmond / USC Institute of Creative Technologies