|Caldera Opens New Simulation Institute |
Caldera Opens New Simulation Institute
By Joe Burlas, Army News Service.
Washington D.C. -- (ANS) September 29, 2000 -- They may not be as sophisticated as the holodeck suites depicted in the latest "Star Trek" series, but future Army simulators will bring new meaning to realism in the high tech world of virtual reality.
Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera and other officials delivered that message to film stars, school children and more than 300 other guests at the opening of the Army's new simulator research center, the Institute for Creative Technologies, Sept. 26 in Marina del Rey, Calif.
"This is about injecting more realism in Army training because it is an old and proven Army axiom that realistic training saves lives," Caldera said. "Simulators allow you to safely turn up the heat without the danger of training injuries or other accidents. Right now, flight simulators allow pilots to get more experience reacting to threats, firing simulated weapons and flying nap of the earth than they get with a 100 hours of actual flying."
However, Caldera continued, simulators are not intended to totally replace hands-on training with the equipment soldiers use to execute their real-world missions. "If you have trained your skills on a simulator, you are better prepared when you actually train on the real thing," he said.
A 1997 National Research Report recommended that the Army partner with a leading civilian organization in the field of technology to conduct simulator research. In August 1999, Caldera announced the selection of the University of Southern California as that partner. USC built the Institute for Creative Technologies as its simulator research center.
Under the $45 million five-year contract, USC has been challenged to seek additional partners in the film and video game industries in developing immersive learning simulator technology. Paramount Pictures and SONY Electronics are among those which have already signed on.
The traveling Army Armor Adventure Van showed off current M1A1 tank gunnery, commander and driver simulators outside the center, while presentations inside featured developing simulation concepts.
Chief among those concepts was the Mission Rehearsal Exercise System. The MRES is under development to allow soldiers to experience the sights, sounds and circumstances they are likely to encounter when deploying to a new area of operations by use of interactive computer-driven stories.
"What we are doing here is immersing soldiers in an intense 3-D audio and graphics environment facing tense situations requiring decisive decisions," said Dr. William Swartout, ICT technical director. "Different decisions at critical points determine different outcomes. Participants interact with a variety of AI (artificial intelligence) characters representing local inhabitants, friendlies, hostiles and coaches."
In the MRES scenario presented on a large curved screen using three projectors, the participant acted as a platoon leader faced with the situation of helping a young car accident victim, and at the same time, completing his mission of linking up his unit with another platoon surrounded by a rioting crowd in Eastern Europe. A computer-generated platoon sergeant responded to conversations and served as coach -- similar to way real NCOs mentor their young lieutenant leaders. Other AI characters served as the rest of the platoon, the victim and his mother, and a restless crowd surrounding the accident scene.
The program is not totally scripted as most current video games are. It is situation-based which is dependent on different choice points. The AI characters react based upon behavior and emotion modeling at those choice points.
Claiming that the demonstrated program is beyond anything yet commercially available, Swartout said a production version will probably not be available for another couple of years.
Future MRES scenarios will likely include an Army disaster relief operation in South America and others for the medical and educational fields.
"One of the big issues we are attempting to address is that it often takes six months to develop software for a crisis which is usually over with by the time the program's ready," Swartout said. "We want to build up a large library of different environments from around the world into which we can import AI characters from other scenarios."
Caldera said he envisions the system being used with virtual reality goggles or a similar system to familiarize soldiers with the terrain, culture and mission while in flight as they deploy.
VIPs who attended the ICT opening included "Star Trek: Voyager" star Kate Melgrew, "M.A.S.H." film and "Friends" television star Elliot Gould, comicbook artist Stan Lee and USC Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Lloyd Armstrong.