It may be a while before we get to full Star Trek levels of technological advancement, but that’s not going to stop us from trying. Things like 3D printing are giving us a head start on items like replicators, and while it’ll be a while before we can beam anywhere, the military is now using a close approximation of a Holodeck to train soldiers and prepare them for combat.
Meet the Virtual Immersive Portable Environment, known as the VIPE Holodeck for short (seriously, they couldn’t come up with one more letter and call the damn thing VIPER? That’s way more badass than VIPE). Think of VIPE as a sort of steppingstone to get to where Gene Roddenberry promised that we would eventually get. We can’t use this to pick up on computer-generated hotties just yet, not like Riker did in The Next Generation, but this does have a unique set of attributes that the military is putting to good use.
Built by security specialists Northrop Grumman, VIPE uses what are essentially a bunch of big ass screens in order to simulate actual battle conditions for soldiers. These scenarios can be used in basic training exercises to get new recruits ready for combat in a general way—think getting them used to maneuvering and gunfire—or in order to prepare for specific missions. Say a unit is going to go into a village. Instead of wandering in blind, soldiers can go through a sort of dry run to get their bearings, familiarize themselves with their surroundings, and generally figure out what to expect in an actual combat situation.
VIPE is a low cost, easily moved device. Based on current video game technology, the system is made up primarily of commercially available components, and can be upgraded quickly as new advancements become available. 360-degree cameras and speaker systems immerse the soldiers visually and sonically in the artificial environment. You can even link up to other devices online, allowing a multi-player mode, so to speak.
The Holodeck also has potential applications for medical training, as well for law enforcement. First responders, SWAT, and other tactical teams can run scenarios and prepare in case of events like school shootings and hostage situations. Oh, and just in case you thought this was designed for serious uses like war, Northrop Grumman thinks the VIPE Holodeck would be just dandy for playing actual video games.