A perceived shortage of scientific and technical talent in the
fields of modeling and simulation has led to the creation of an
advanced academic program at the University of Central Florida.
The director of the project said he hopes that a new Ph.D. program
will help strengthen the nation’s pool of scientists that
strictly focus on modeling and simulation disciplines.
“We’re working to put the study of modeling and simulation
onto a more scientific foundation,” said Randall Shumaker,
director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute
for Simulation and Training, based in Orlando. Shumaker was previously
superintendent of the information technology division at the Naval
Research Laboratory, and served as its chief information officer.
While he was at the Naval Research Laboratory, Shumaker led an effort
to incorporate virtual reality programs into decision systems.
This year, the University of Central Florida became one of the
first universities in the country to offer advanced degrees in modeling
and simulation, according to Shumaker.
Other existing graduate programs in simulation in the United States
are at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, Calif., and Old
Dominion University, in Norfolk, Va., but they are administrated
through engineering departments. The Institute for Simulation and
Training is a stand-alone entity.
Forty students entered the Ph.D. program this fall, and the university
is also offering master’s degree coursework in modeling and
simulation. The program brings together diverse disciplines, including
industrial engineering, computer science and engineering, human
factors psychology, mathematics, statistics and digital media.
In recent years, Shumaker said, central Florida has increasingly
become a technology corridor for military research in the field
of modeling and simulation. The institute is located in the same
research park as the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division;
the U.S. Army Simulation; Training and Instrumentation Command (STRICOM);
the Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation, and the Marine
Corps modeling and simulation liaison office.
The Army and Navy both have major installations in central Florida.
Eighty percent of the business of the institute comes from the military,
said Shumaker. Last year, it won more than $8 million in sponsored
research funding, he added.
According to the university’s Web site, the simulation industry
contributes 25,000 direct jobs, another 25,000 indirect jobs and
$1.5 billion to the local economy of central Florida. The graduate
program in modeling and simulation is expected to attract a large
part-time population of working professionals from the region.
The University of Central Florida was originally founded as a technical
school, to support government projects of the Kennedy Space Center,
as well as the entertainment industry, dominated by Disney and Universal
Studios in Orlando.
The school has 39,000 students. In addition to the university’s
Institute for Modeling and Simulation, which was opened in 1982,
the school also offers advanced coursework in the related fields
of digital and dynamic media. Several junior colleges in the area
provide associate’s degrees in modeling and simulation, and
the region is also home to a high-school internship program in the
“This area is really a hotbed in the modeling and simulation
world,” Shumaker said.
The Institute for Simulation and Training is now the largest program
of its kind in the country. It has 135 staff members, including
students. The institute is cleared to work on U.S. government projects
at the classified secret level.
A byproduct of advances in the field of modeling and simulation
is the disappearance of formerly essential technology such as wind
tunnels. “They’re disappearing because the modeling
and simulation of computational fluid dynamics is such that you
don’t need the physical wind tunnels anymore,” Shumaker
The institute also is conducting research in the areas of multi-resolution
simulation, connectivity, high-level simulation architecture, computer
graphics, virtual environments and advanced distributed learning.
Some of the projects that the institute is currently working on
involve robotics. Robots are important, because “they can
interact with people and with other robots in reasonable ways,”
said Shumaker. “Say you’re a Marine working with a search
robot. You don’t want to have to write code to get it to do
something; you want to have a similar level of interaction. Commands
can be given verbally or with hand gestures,” he said.
“One of the things people want to do in the training world
is to represent human behavior,” he said. The goal is to act
as a human being with a specific kind of training. That objective
has not yet been reached, he said.
“No one really knows how to do that. We can build realistic
synthetic vehicles, but we’re trying to represent human behavior
and express that in modern ways,” Shumaker said.
“I think robots, as a representation of semi-autonomous systems,
are the wave of the future for certain applications,” he said.
“But they are not yet autonomous. People have to understand
their utility, that they can behave in reasonable ways with people
and be able to communicate at a high level,” he said.
Shumaker said that the institute does a lot of business with the
military services, but also works closely with the entertainment
industry. “There’s a interesting linkage,” between
military and entertainment because, “the military is interested
in what the entertainment world is doing. The entertainment industry
has learned how to give you intense experiences, and how to make
you feel things that may not be real. That technology can enhance
the military environment,” he said.
One project being worked on at the institute is a virtual rainforest.
The institute is home to the Virtual Environment Testbed, which
enables researchers to evaluate and compare the effectiveness of
various systems. “We are experimenting with using immersion
techniques. Using virtual reality, you can see what a rainforest
looks like from various perspectives,” Shumaker said.
Shumaker noted that the Naval Research Lab does a lot of work in
the area of virtual reality, “but it’s much more in
the basic research end, so we incorporate the more applied”
aspects, he said.
Virtual reality is important, because it takes the place of more
expensive, on-site training. “A main focus of this institute
has been training,” said Shumaker. An example is that the
Navy has just signed a contract with the institute to build so-called
“battle stations.” Battle stations will work “to
give them confidence that the training they have has been useful,
but in a safe and controlled environment. It’s going to be
a facility that gives a sailor a realistic shipboard experience,
but on dry land,” he said.
However, “the military is interested in how modeling and
simulation might evolve for much more than just training,”
Dynamic media, a study that focuses on the interaction of people
with synthetic experiences, offers new avenues for technological
Simone, a recently released movie about an actress entirely simulated
by computer, “is kind of a prototype,” Shumaker said.
The institute is closely looking at “incorporating computer
technology into entertainment,” he said.
The fact that the modeling and simulation shops at Disney and Universal
Studios are located within about 25 minutes of the institute makes
it easy to collaborate and conduct joint research projects, he said.
Various modeling and simulation companies, in recent years, have
stepped forward to offer scholarships to students working on relevant
projects at the institute. Most recently, Simulation First LLC has
funded an annual gift of $1,000, which will be awarded to a full-time
graduate student in modeling and simulation.
Simulation First plans to “bring scholarship winners to commercial
courses and get them involved in industrial activities beyond their
coursework and research. This is something we can do to promote
the advancement of simulation technology for the good of the entire
community,” said Roger Smith, Simulation First’s president.