When the New York Times distributed one million Google Cardboard virtual reality devices to its Sunday newspaper subscribers in early November, it only reaffirmed what defense contractor Raytheon already thought about the nascent tech. The maker of missile defense technology had been knee-deep in development of its own virtual reality app and content to promote the latest upgrade to its Patriot radar system -- which like VR itself is based on a 360-degree view.
"I was cheering that day when I found out," said Erin Sheehy, director, integrated communications for Raytheon, referring to the unprecedented New York Times effort. She bought a Google Cardboard device that weekend on Amazon. "We're in some really good company."
Raytheon launched its VR world tour at the Warsaw Security Forum and Dubai Airshow last month, debuting the Raytheon Radar 360 Viewer app and VR content along with a Raytheon-branded Google Cardboard device at the big defense-industry events. Ms. Sheehy sees VR as a fitting way to promote the Raytheon brand as an innovator, not only to government decision makers, but also tech enthusiasts, veterans and future military recruits.
In the works since June, the app content -- for now just one short VR experience -- is a way to visualize how the new 360-degree Global Patriot Solutions radar tracks threats of oncoming missiles from all angles. "It's radar that doesn't just look forward, but looks all around, because threats can come from all different areas," said Ms. Sheehy. The technology is available to global government clients, 13 of which are already customers, including the United States and Germany.
"The U.S. Army is looking to upgrade so that would be something in future budgets," she said. "This is a way to show them what's coming next."
During the fall, the firm touted its upgraded radar technology with a digital video display ad campaign developed in conjunction with the Boston Group. The ads ran on Washington, D.C., news sites such as TheHill.com and touted the "innovation" and "affordability" of the technology.
The current app content is simple. The viewer stands in a lush, green field in New England, overlooking a radar test range. Points on the 360-degree landscape are highlighted, mimicking how the radar system itself might isolate potential threats.
Filming and producing VR content is no simple task, but Raytheon created the sole video currently featured on its app in-house with its communications team and advanced media group. The company even did its own 3D printing to build a stand for the GoPro cameras it used to film 360-degree landscapes. The app development cost: under $20,000.
The firm may apply its newfound VR skills to other programs, suggested Ms. Sheehy, who declined to share how many times the app has been downloaded, saying Raytheon has only done a soft-launch thus far. "It's a new skill set for us."