Spotting camouflage in a virtual landscape

  Last updated September 3, 2019 at 12:01 pm


Scientists are aiming to improve camouflage design by creating realistic virtual landscapes.

Just how does one build a convincing virtual landscape? Defence scientists Dr Bin Lee (LD) and Jay Yu are facing that challenge.

Just how do you build a convincing virtual landscape? That’s the challenge facing Defence scientists as they push the realism of virtual worlds to the limits.

Defence uses software to generate generic, immersive digital landscapes in order to practise various command and control procedures easily and efficiently without going into the field.

However, Bin Lee (LD) and Jay Yu are going a step further. Their team are building virtual landscapes to examine the hyperspectral signatures of soldiers and equipment, to predict how well camouflage is performing.

Camouflage for visual and other signatures is currently designed and tested in field trials using observers, and static, 2D photo-simulations. However, there are limitations in that approach which the team believe can be overcome using simulation in virtual landscapes.

To kick off the research, the scientists captured Australian landscape imagery from various viewpoints including overhead. They are now using terrain mapping software and a virtual landscape editor to embed the landscape into a digital world.

“We are linking the modelled world to the physical world,” says Lee.

Testing in a virtual landscape critical

Assessment of camouflage nets has been the initial test case for the virtual landscape. The team originally started off by capturing 3D images of real camouflage nets. But these are complex shapes, and even if the same people set it up it will look different each time.

Jay explains that to test how easy it is to detect a camouflage net hidden in the bush, you’d want to test a multitude of different setups. This is where testing in a virtual landscape starts to bear fruit.

Software algorithms can model how different fabrics drape, while the location of tent poles can be varied to tauten the fabric in different directions.

“The benefit of modelling is that we now can look at thousands of different setups and compare signatures against the backdrop from a complete range of angles,” Yu says.

The tent can be viewed from the perspective of a soldier on the ground, or up on an elevated ridge, or anywhere in between.

“Once we’ve modelled everything we can change to different viewpoints with a single button click. Should we add an extra pole under the netting? Or have no poles? Let’s test it. We can also flyover and see the netting (or not) from the viewpoint of a UAV.”

A long and detailed road to realistic virtual landscape

But it’s a long and detailed road to a realistic virtual landscape. Every element must be meticulously modelled and added accurately.

Referring back to photographs is helpful, Yu says, but not enough for a realist painter. Once a certain level of fidelity has been reached, they head back and compare the chosen physical landscape to the computer-generated version.

Yu is currently studying the effect on detection probability of different types of movement of groups of soldiers through the simulated terrain. A looming challenge is the modelling of the Puckapunyal terrain and target materials and assets in multispectral and hyperspectral wavebands, well beyond visible ranges into the infra-red bands, to help assess detectability by other types of sensors.


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About the Author

Defence Science and Technology Group
DST Group is the Australian government's lead agency responsible for applying science and technology to safeguard Australia and its national interests.

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