VirtualMap: Thales's sand table of the future for land forces

VirtualMap by Thales is a virtual reality tool designed to replace the sand tables used by land forces for mission planning and briefing purposes. It allows users to familiarise themselves with the terrain, access additional information and analyse the mission timeline to gain a real tactical edge in the field.

Using a traditional sand table, with its sticks, ropes and models, is a time-proven way to plan land-based missions and brief the personnel taking part. It's simple and effective, but it has its limitations. In particular, a traditional sand table lacks to ability to:
•    represent the technical, logistical, tactical and geographic complexity of operational missions
•    gather input from all the different specialists when planning a mission, and develop a collaborative approach to military engagements
•    represent the mission timeline
•    provide each participant with the detailed information they need to be fully prepared for the mission
•    brief individuals who are not able to be physically present.

VirtualMap: the immersive sand table
The new Thales solution simply requires a PC with a network connection and a few virtual reality headsets and controllers. Inside the virtual sand table, avatars of the participants meet around a 3D topographical map. They can overlay the map with photos, images, sounds, documents and, importantly, they can change the positions of their equipment and resources and plan their movements. Mission participants can dive into the map and explore it subjectively in 1:1 scale, familiarising themselves with the terrain, checking coverage zones and firing angles, and rehearsing their actions and movements. They can click to access additional information or geo-located data (street maps, technical data, photos, etc.).

Co-designing a mission with all the specialists involved (combatants, engineering, logistics, etc.), and running though the mission “from the inside” to get a feel for the terrain brings land forces a significant tactical edge. In addition, VirtualMap generates various types of reports that can be used to manage available resources down to the last detail.

Immersive reality’s time has come
Thales has worked hand-in-hand with the French Army for a number of years to develop immersive reality solutions, and that's why VirtualMap is such a perfect match for the tactical problems faced by land forces in operational situations. It was only recently, however, that some thorny issues were resolved, and operational deployment of the solution is now possible. With the latest technologies, users can experience intuitive, comfortable immersion in a virtual environment for a period of up to several hours. And as new generations of servicemen and women join the forces, user profiles have changed radically. Widespread familiarity with video games allows today's users to quickly get to grips with this type of tool and explore the full range of its capabilities.

Immersive reality is set to be a game-changer for land, air and naval forces around the world. By using it well and exploiting all its possibilities, they will be able to share information and prepare their missions more efficiently — and that brings them a clear tactical advantage in the field.