The U.S. Air Force has created a mobile theme park of sorts that lets individuals thinking about signing up for duty experience military missions through 3-D animation and video.

The mobile tour, which made its debut on April 22 in Florida, is being used to recruit “the best, most qualified candidates to join the Air Force,” said Kristin Krajecki, an account director at Idea City, the ad firm heading up the mobile tour program.

Visitors use specialized wristbands and handheld tablet computers to interact with the surrounding screens and video laid out in a trailer about the size of a basketball court – giving them a chance to walk in the boots of a soldier before signing up for service.

Command Center Alpha

The tour of “duty” begins with a survey to gauge the participant's level of interest in joining the service, after which the individual gets a wristband embedded with a radio tag that is programmed to correspond to the person's enthusiasm score and a tablet computer. (Although Krajecki said she wanted to use iPads, the devices don’t have enough processing power yet.)

From there, the individual enters the augmented reality – an interactive experience created through live video that is peppered throughout, or “augmented,” with 3-D graphics.

A simple example of how augmented reality works:  Aim the iPhone camera at a neighborhood local and as the camera pans the area, an app could add digital graphics about the buildings that move and change with the live video feed.

Within Command Center Alpha, the name given to the mobile tour, the walls and ceiling are lined with images corresponding to the different careers within the Air Force. By pointing the tablet at labeled target spots, one can immerse him or her-self in one of 20 different experiences.

A favorite for Captain Homero Martinez, chief marketing officer at Air Force Recruiting Service, is the search and rescue mission, which displays a pararescue man skydiving from the ceiling. It “gives you the story of the search and rescue mission and some of the things that pararescue and air combat controllers go through,” Martinez told TechNewsDaily.

Other missions include: a rocket launch, which is displayed on a tabletop in the Space room; maneuver of a remotely piloted aircraft; and tracking objects orbiting the earth using a 3-D globe with satellites and space debris.

Behind-the-Scenes Technology

To create the augmented reality, the Air Force used D’Fusion software, Autodesk Maya to create 3-D models, and wireless Motion J3400 tablet PCs.

When a user aims the camera (embedded in the tablet) at a target spot on one of the walls, the D'Fusion software in the tablet integrates 3-D graphics into the incoming video feed, creating an immersive experience for the user.

For those thinking about signing up for service or just intrigued by the technology, the augmented-reality tour is traveling to the Indianapolis 500 at the end of May, the Ocean City Air Show in June, and the Country Music Association Music Festival also in June.