I crashed an F-16 in the Grand Canyon

The plane accelerated, I lowered altitude and dropped into the canyon. I pushed the throttle and hit the afterburners. “Back off and increase altitude,” a voice commanded as the plane came dangerously close to a canyon wall. I pulled back on the controls, but it was too late, the F-16 was hurtling toward a rocky cliff. I braced for impact.

I was still in one piece when the plane came to rest. I removed my headset, and was promptly assisted by the AFWERX Air Force innovation officer who casually mentioned that ten-year olds tend to do better. I had just experienced a custom, fully-immersive simulator built at a fraction of the cost historically associated with flight simulators—and every component is available on the open market. When a control has to be replaced, instead of going through Air Force procurement, they order it on Amazon. Your next flight simulator can be on your doorstep tomorrow.

Immersive Technology is Not the Future. It’s Right Now!

A big theme this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference—where innovators like AFWERX were on display—was how immersive technologies have come of age. Everything from tactical response heads-up displays (HUDs) for dangerous situations, to immersive training simulators to learn how to operate a forklift were demonstrated and discussed. It’s clear that we are entering a new era in our ability to handle complex challenges. Flying F-16s notwithstanding.

With Data and Hardware, Anything is Possible

Our ability to create, collect, and use data is changing the way we experience and understand previously opaque environments. Some of the advances on display at SXSW this year included:

Haptic Suits (Feel the Pressure)

We’ve seen what it’s like to explore a virtual world—now we can feel it. Haptic suits, body-hugging sensor wear, track your motion and respond with physical feedback to emulate physical experiences. Some are designed to capture motion data for animation, others simulate real environments. One that we demo’d used electrical impulses to affect muscle movement or create the sensation of impact. These suits are used in tactical training to simulate the kick of a rifle, or physical resistance. They can even make it feel like it’s raining.  

Brain Scanning (Know Yourself)

How do you get objective data about people? Straight from the brain. Brain scanning technology is bringing an unprecedented look into the functions that control our preferences and emotions. As new entrants into the world of brain scanning, U.Group is using the technology to gain insight into how we engage with, and respond to products and environments.

Augmented Reality (See Through Walls)

At one of the many SXSW activations, we were able to see through a multi-story building to locate exhibits and get information about them. Using a HoloLens headset, we were able to look in any direction and see information, images, and graphics that exposed what lay beyond the walls. As an official Microsoft Mixed Reality partner, U.Group has been leading the charge in experiences that reshape our relationship to physical spaces and products.

Virtual Reality (Full-body Gaming)

Beat Saber is the first virtual reality game to hit 1 million in sales. Players slice their way through futuristic obstacle courses while aggressively moving every part of their bodies— jumping and swinging with the grace of professional dancers. A new generation of physically fit gamers is on the rise, and the days of couch surfing are over. Even professional athletes can benefit from the application of immersive tech—in fact, U.Group’s using mixed reality to help pro teams power their training off the field

Drone Scanning (Scout Your Locations in 3D)

Hollywood spends a fortune on location planning, logistics, and scene preparation. Not anymore. With advanced scanning technology, drones are able to to capture outdoor environments anywhere in the world, and translate them into high-definition 3D models to plan shoots and explore scene possibilities. The benefits don’t stop at Hollywood—city planners, architects, and event planners are just a few who will benefit from this futuristic capture and modeling technology.  

What do all of these exciting next-gen technologies have in common? The ability to create experiences that engage us, help us learn, and reduce cost. We came back from SXSW inspired by what we heard, and excited to build open our already advanced set of capabilities. It’s thrilling to be part of such a powerful movement where anything is possible.

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