The United States government spends a lot of money on its defense programs, investing in the training and technology necessary to arm and prepare the most advanced fighting force on the planet. The price tag for these efforts reached $581 billion in 20141 as various branches of defense continued to dedicate funds toward the research and development of innovative tools and technology.

3D volumetric displays could be lifesaving tools in medical applications.
No one wants to go to war, but there are technologies being developed every day that can be utilized on the battlefield to ensure the members of our armed forces are successful and return safely. One such technology, 3D display, has garnered significant attention, as many organizations are discovering the benefits over traditional 2D display technology.

3DIcon is developing a glasses-free 3D volumetric display, otherwise known as a static volume display. The display consists of a rare earth-doped transparent image chamber material and two infrared scanning lasers used to excite the rare earth ions and create visible light emission. The two lasers are computer controlled using available 3D data provided from a variety of sources. The scanning lasers create an image of the available data in the image chamber that can be observed on all sides by one or more viewers. The approach used by 3DIcon to illuminate the image chamber material with infrared radiation increases the number of light emitting voxels (volumetric pixels) to a resolution as high as 800 million, which is sufficient to provide still images, animation, and video from 3D volumetric data.

Traditional 2D displays are utilized every day, but have their shortcomings because they are not fully compatible with the many technologies creating large amounts of volumetric 3D data and images. These complex volumetric 3D datasets call for displays that can faithfully represent the data. While stereoscopic displays with 3D capability continue to improve, glasses-free 3D volumetric displays currently being developed could represent a significant advance over 3D volumetric datasets being displayed on a flat screen.

The need for additional user interactions can make it nearly impossible to use 2D display technology for real-time applications, particularly in the world of defense where decisions must be made instantaneously and lives are at stake. Imagine being able to visualize data on a glasses-free 3D volumetric display, overlaying an extraction point, a weather forecast, or a change in enemy positions – a true representation in real time of 3D data. The technology could be used in a variety of different defense applications.

Military Simulation and Training

A glasses-free 3D volumetric display would allow commanders to better prepare and perform military operations.
In military operations a commander must maintain a perspective of the battlefield at all times. Planning for combat operations and analysis of the mission, terrain, enemy, and weather must all be considered prior to committing forces, and once deployed, these same data must be continually monitored. The capabilities of the military in acquiring and delivering timely information from highly dynamic and uncertain environments to the command level is rapidly outpacing their ability to create a visual representation of these combined data for situational awareness across land, sea, space, and cyber.

As an example, defending an embassy in a hostile location would require a commander to have a thorough view of the battle space in order to properly prepare, deploy, observe, and extract forces. In the past, this preparation may include data collected from forces on the ground used to create scaled 3D models with assumptions about enemy forces and their placement. Today, real-time 3D data is available that accurately portrays the battlespace, but much of the information available is lost when viewed in 2D. A glasses-free 3D volumetric display located at the command level would allow the commander to better prepare and perform military operations at reduced risk to the committed forces, the mission, and the surrounding civilians.


Air traffic controllers are decision-makers that, similar to military commanders, operate in a highly dynamic environment that involves many actors and the ability to make difficult decisions with incomplete information under pressure and high workload. To ensure safety while providing expeditious flow of air traffic, controllers use various techniques to monitor minimum separation between aircraft – primarily through the use of radar.

Visually scanning a 2D representation of the radar data is a crucial activity of a controller, with studies showing that human factors such as boredom and age, along with the growing volume of air traffic, can influence decision-making. While the use of autonomous systems may help increase safety in the future, changes in how the radar data is displayed is a more near term solution. A glasses-free 3D volumetric display could be placed in a control center and used to monitor air traffic in 3D space. By working in teams, controllers can maintain increased awareness and benefit from the input of others monitoring a common environment.

Data from emerging 3D weather radar could be merged with air traffic to provide additional knowledge of the situation. While air traffic could be one of the greatest benefactors of glasses-free 3D volumetric displays, similar benefits exist within traffic control on the ground, at sea, or in space.

Military Medical

Combat medicine can occur on the battlefield, where immediate lifesaving measures are required, to stateside, where more extensive and longer-term care is available. Each of these requires systems for the display of medical imaging data or the display of data for education and training. While many of the systems used are commercially available, others are developed to meet the unique needs of the military in terms of mobility and durability.

Traditionally the level of care in the battlefield is limited to a “buddy system” where medical personnel are not present. This practice is rapidly changing as advances in technology are providing greater capability in medical care closer to the battlefield. For example, advanced imaging systems have become more portable, making more detailed medical data of an injured soldier available to be transmitted rearward and allow clinicians to assist in medical decision- making. These advances will continue to expand the need for glasses-free 3D volumetric displays that can more accurately represent the data available.

Homeland Security

The most commonly observed role of homeland security is at airports, where agents screen millions of passengers each year for potential threats before they board planes. Homeland security also monitors passengers using other forms of transportation, screens millions of cargo containers transported by air, ground and sea each day, monitors the borders by land, sea, and air, monitors critical infrastructure, and coordinates a federal response to domestic disasters.

This breadth of responsibilities requires the use of screening, surveillance, and modeling & simulation systems that can often provide data that is most difficult to comprehend when displayed in 2D.

For example, the ability to scan a vehicle for improvised explosive devices (IED) is highly desired. While 2D scanning capability exists today, it can be difficult to discern where an IED is located once detected. Once developed, 3D volumetric scanning will provide data on the specific location of the IED, allowing a security officer to more rapidly and reliably observe the presence and location of the IED and develop the appropriate response.

The importance to innovate and increase preparedness within the defense sector is crucial, and much of that hinges upon the data currently available and how it can be viewed. These technologies have the potential to transform communications on all fronts, and should see further development as the US continues its defense innovations.

This article was written by Victor Keen, CEO, 3DIcon (Tulsa, OK). For more information, contact Mr. Keen This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit .


  1. Guy Eastman, Analysis: US No Longer Spends More on Defense than Next 10 Biggest Countries Combined. 25 June 2014