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Trends on Tuesday: Because Seeing is Believing—Augmented Reality in the Federal Government

Connect with other feds working with emerging technologies via the Emerging Citizen Technology Office; learn from and contribute to its Emerging Citizen Technology Atlas and join their related Communities of Practice.

It is no secret that some agencies within the federal government can be behind the times when it comes to cutting-edge technology implementation. But this appears to be changing as federal agencies begin implementing futuristic technologies such as Machine Learning, Blockchain, and Virtual and Augmented Reality.

Augmented Reality (AR), a type of Virtual Reality (VR), is the technology that allows virtual images to be superimposed over the real-world environment, providing users with nearly unlimited interaction with data, information, and even fun. This technology seems useful for trying out new IKEA furniture in your living room, or for surgeons to view a 3-D X-Ray image of a patient’s body that can be viewed while performing complex surgeries—but how can federal agencies benefit from utilizing this technology?

There are several examples of how federal agencies are already using AR technologies to better meet their missions. In fact, last year GSA hosted a workshop in which representatives from federal agencies and industry specialists had the opportunity to demo new technologies and work together to develop their ideas for immediate and impactful application of these technologies within their agencies. Following this workshop, GSA launched three new initiatives powered by GSA Digital Communities including a Federal Virtual/Augmented Reality program designed to serve as a “collaborative hub” where pilot programs can be analyzed, further developed and ultimately deployed across government.

One example of a potential use for AR is Big Data analysis and visualization. Data visualization has been a skilled discipline for several years, but the benefits of visualizing data in real time on a life-like scale, and being able to interact with the data (immersive visualization), are endless. Organizations that create and analyze large amounts of data are limited in their analysis and data interactions. Visual angles (i.e. only being able to view data on a flat 2D surface,) navigation capabilities, and human perceptions are limited in a small 2D environment. AR immersive visualization solves all of these problems. The data is projected in 3D and the user can step inside of the data sets and view, edit, manipulate, and analyze it in a dynamic, real-world environment.

Woman touching a virtual interface.

eternalcreative/iStock/Thinkstock

A second, more critical use for AR is to enhance cybersecurity practices. According to tech startup ProjectWise, cybersecurity is likely to become a field in which employees work in augmented environments for the majority of their jobs. ProjectWise has already developed a platform called Immersive Grid in which connected assets are represented as a building inside of a virtual city. Size, height and shape of the buildings are all representatives of cyber attributes. This platform looks and feels like an interactive video game in which the player or security expert scours the city for potential threats and has the ability to quickly and completely deactivate them. In addition, National Security Agency (NSA) has been studying the development of an AR prototype that would assist cybersecurity professionals in their work. Both concepts offer the potential to improve the quality of cybersecurity workload in a quickly changing, data-heavy work environment where staying on top of the threats is the greatest priority. According to Dr. Josiah Dykstra, technical director for NSA’s Laboratory for Telecommunication Sciences, this technology will help employees work more efficiently and better manage stress, improve focus and increase task processing.

Many AR applications include the use of glasses, headsets, or a HoloLens; or content can be viewed directly from a handheld device such as a smartphone or tablet. Content and images can also be projected into a room for a more interactive experience.

There are many technology-related challenges facing the federal government today. Fortunately, as challenges increase, so do innovative and dynamic technologies that can be utilized to address these challenges. Augmented Reality is one important technology that will continue grow and improve well into the future, and we can look forward to agencies recognizing its potential to solve much more than just cybersecurity and data management problems.

Augmented reality glasses technology concept.

JIRAROJ PRADITCHAROENKUL/iStock/Thinkstock


All references to specific brands and/or companies are used only for illustrative purposes and do not imply endorsement by the U.S. federal government or any federal government agency.

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