| Forschung
Nuclear disarmament

Verifying disarmament processes using virtual reality

Together with the Centre for Natural Sciences and Peace Research at Universität Hamburg, the Digital Reality Research and Transfer Centre at HAW Hamburg has programmed a virtual environment where inspectors can learn and practice the disarmament of nuclear warheads according to international standards. An initial presentation has already been held in New York, and the next is planned for early October in Berlin, at the working group meeting of the G7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. Matthias Kuhr, head of the project, explained to us how the virtual reality tool Nuclear Disarmament Verification VR works.

Sculpture in front of the UN office in New York

Sculpture in front of the UN office in New York

Mr. Kuhr, how did the cooperation with the Centre for Natural Sciences and Peace Research at Universität Hamburg begin?
Dipl.-Ing. Matthias Kuhr: The initial contact came about through Professor Dr. Gerald Kirchner, the head of the centre, who is also a researcher in the Nuclear Disarmament Verification (NuDiVe) project. He happened to see an ad in the metro for the M.Sc. in Digital Reality at HAW Hamburg. It was immediately clear to him that digital reality held great potential for the NuDiVe project, as it would make it possible to digitalise the nuclear disarmament concepts and thus make them independent of time and place. This is how Nuclear Disarmament Verification Virtual Reality (NuDiVe VR) came into being – an important step in speeding up the process development in this project.

Your virtual reality tool applies the disarmament concepts from the German-French 'nuclear disarmament verification' exercise in a virtual environment. What does a user see in the virtual reality tool?
Matthias Kuhr: We have built a digital twin of NuDiVe. To do this, we developed a 'multiplayer virtual reality sandbox'. This is a virtual reality multiplayer gaming environment. It makes it possible for anyone with virtual reality glasses and an Internet connection to take part in this virtual environment. They can see themselves as avatars and converse using voice chat. In this environment, we've implemented the tools necessary for the nuclear disarmament verification process. These include a security camera system with the ability to record and a system for physically correct measurement of radiation, which is portrayed using digital measurement instruments.

It is important to understand that the disarmament process is highly complex, because the participating actors are pursuing different goals. On the one hand, the states that have committed to disarming do not want to give away any military secrets. This means that inspectors cannot completely monitor the process. Yet at the end they are supposed to be able to verify whether the nuclear warheads have been completely disarmed, and ensure that part of the fissile material hasn't been hidden away in the building to build new, secret warheads.

There are different roles that can be played virtually. When you take on the role of host, you play the person who is carrying out the disarmament of a warhead in their own country. Or you can try out the role of an inspector who is supposed to verify disarmament. Another role is that of the neutral observer. Each role in the NuDiVe process has a different clothing colour to make it easier to keep track of who is who.

Why is a virtual reality tool necessary? Why can't the monitoring of nuclear disarmament take place on site?
Matthias Kuhr: Digital twins for processes, especially for those that are still in the development phase, speed up their completion and enable the time- and location-independent participation of all stakeholders and development partners, without requiring extensive travel and resources. Additionally, the tool can later be used for teaching purposes when training new inspectors. It is also beneficial for communication about such processes.

It is also possible to simply save the status of all virtual reality objects, such as their position in the room, and to continue again at any time without having to go through all of the previous steps. This means that the environment for a specific process step from the training is always available. In the real world this is a huge resource-related problem.

How long and with whom have you worked on the project?
Matthias Kuhr: To begin with, we worked intensively with the NuDiVe process. It is a very long document with indvidual process steps, phases and restrictions. Initially it was difficult for us laypeople to envision how exactly it all proceeded and who was permitted to do what at exactly which points.

For this reason, Dr. Simon Hebel built a board game to present the complex process and help familiarise his students and those new to the project with the topic. Going through the process ourselves in the role of an inspector was a great help to us. At the same time, of course, we learned about nuclear warheads and how they are built. This helped us understand what really happens later behind closed doors when disarmament is taking place.

What is happening now with your virtual reality tool? Where can people see it, and is it publicly accessible? Can laypeople even understand it?
Matthias Kuhr: The first presentation was in New York, and the next one is planned for the beginning of October in Berlin at the working group meeting of the G7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. At the same time, we are making the tool available to all academics working on research and development in the area of disarmament verification. Some Belgian colleagues have recently begun to work with us on the architecture and room distribution for the simulation disarmament hall.

You've said that this was a massive undertaking, almost like a life's work, but you're still at the beginning of your career. What happens now?
Matthias Kuhr: I'm just going to keep working and contributing my expertise and energy to projects that make sense to me. I am passionate about new technologies and I want to generate added value for society and simplify communication and coordination processes that are useful in providing training for key positions. Alongside NuDiVe, I am also working with PAKOMM, a project using mixed reality to support urban planning processes and increase participation in them. I am also currently developing a training application to support education for leadership positions with responsibility for mass casualty incidents. These are emergencies or accidents with a large number of people injured, and they require specific planning and organisational measures.

And finally, I am currently putting the finishing touches on an indoor-navigation automated reality tool for the Hamburg central library. It is intended to help users find the item they are looking for more quickly in the large building. My motto is always the same: progress through technology using applied sciences and technologies.

Interview: Katharina Jeorgakopulos

[Translate to English:]

[Translate to English:]

Sie sagten, dass es eine echte Mammutaufgabe gewesen sei, fast wie ein Lebenswerk. Sie stehen aber noch am Anfang Ihrer Karriere, wie geht es für Sie weiter?
Matthias Kuhr: Ich mache einfach weiter und bringe meine Expertise und Energie in für mich sinnvolle Projekte ein. Ich habe eine Leidenschaft für neue Technologien, möchte einen gesellschaftlichen Mehrwert generieren und komplexe Kommunikation und Abstimmungsprozesse vereinfachen, die für das Training von Schlüsselpositionen nützlich sind. Neben NuDiVe beschäftige ich mich noch mit PAKOMM  – ein Projekt zur Unterstützung und Teilhabe an Stadtplanungsprozessen mit Mixed Reality. Außerdem entwickle ich zurzeit eine Trainingsanwendung für die Unterstützung der Ausbildung von Leitungspositionen beim MANV. Unter MANV versteht man einen Notfall mit einer größeren Anzahl von Verletzten, der besondere planerische und organisatorische Maßnahmen erfordert.

Zu guter Letzt finalisiere ich gerade eine „Indoor-Navigations-Augmented-Reality“-Anwendung für die Zentralbibliothek in Hamburg. Damit sollen Nutzer*innen schneller das gesuchte Medium in dem großen Gebäude finden. Ich folge dabei immer demselben Motto: Fortschritt durch Technik mit angewandten Wissenschaften und Technologien.

Interview: Katharina Jeorgakopulos

About the NuDiVe and NuDiVe VR projects

Atomic weapons are the most dangerous weapons in the world. It is estimated that roughly 12,000 nuclear warheads exist globally, with the capacity to destroy the earth many times over. As part of efforts to prevent the use of atomic warheads, the Tenth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was held in New York at the beginning of August. The meeting is held every five years to review the Non-Proliferation Treaty on nuclear disarmament, which entered into force in 1970.

Project head Matthias Kuhr of the Digital Reality Research and Transfer Centre, who did most of the programming for the virtual reality application, presented the tool to conference delegates and UN staff together with Dr. Simon Hebel from the NuDiVe project. NuDiVe VR, which is funded by Germany's Federal Foreign Office, will also be presented at the working group meeting of the G7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction in Berlin at the beginning of October.

NuDiVe VR poster


HAW Hamburg
Digital Reality Research and Transfer Centre
Am Sandtorkai 27 (Hafencity)
20456 Hamburg
ftz.digitalreality (at) haw-hamburg (dot) de

Contact people:
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Roland Greule
Head of the Digital Reality Research and Transfer Centre
M +49 152 22808652
T +49 40 428 75-7664
roland.greule (at) haw-hamburg (dot) de

Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Matthias Kuhr
Academic staff member, Digital Reality Research and Transfer Centre
Head of the Nuclear Disarmament Verification VR project