Hollywood 3-D Tech, iPods, iPads, Augmented Reality Draw Crowds at Military Training Expo: UPDATED
ORLANDO, Fla. — On the exhibit floor at the annual Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education conference, the sights and sounds of flight simulators, military shooting games, Humvee convoy trainers, and screaming and bleeding mannequins dominate the landscape.
But hidden amongst the flashy displays are iPads, iPod touch apps, 3-D video displays, voice recognition software, artificial intelligence engines and other civilian technologies that are being adopted by the military.
The military's embrace of Apple gadgets began several years ago when the Army shipped iPods, loaded up with language and culture training software, to deployed soldiers. The latest version of this system has been improved with a tap-to-talk voice recognition feature. About 1,200 VCommunicator systems have been sent to Afghanistan, Iraq and other areas.
With many troops now bringing their own smartphones and iPods to war, Orlando-based VCOM3D is looking to develop more downloadable apps.
“We have developed an enterprise app server on the VCOM3D server, so if we want to deliver an app to a customer, or to demo it, we can say, ‘Here’s your code. You can go on and download the apps,’” saidCarol Wideman, president and CEO of the company. One of the new apps is an instructional video game on how to interact with Afghan leaders. “We’re doing a lot more work on Android and trying to ensure we’re platform agnostic, so we can put apps on devices ranging from the iPod Touch to the Samsung Galaxy Android tablet,” said Ernie Bright, operations manager.
Other firms are also focusing on the booming market for defense apps. A Somerset, N.J.-based firm called D2 TEAM-Sim has developed computer-based training games that it has ported to the iPad and iPod Touch. Executives gave a demo of how two players could collaborate in a game that teaches procedures for Patriot missile-defense operations. Justin King told National Defense that company officials recently asked troops for feedback on the system. They overwhelmingly responded that they would prefer training on their own time versus sitting in a classroom, he said.
The Defense Department is seeking to take advantage of the growing availability of apps. But vendors are still waiting to see whether the government intends to fund more apps development or wait for the private sector to make the investments.
“Everyone’s hot to do apps, but where can we go to make this happen?” said Bright. For now, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency appears to be taking the lead by funding a program to produce a “cross-cultural competency training” app for the Android system.
Sometechnologies at the show seemingly have taken some inspiration from the 3-D Hollywood blockbuster film, “Avatar.” Christie Digital Systems displayed a 3-D projection system called the Holostage. The company integrated its 3-D display technology with a head and gesture tracking system to produce an immersive environment in which people could interact with truck and vehicle models. Donning 3-D glasses allowed passersby to see a maintenance training application.
“We showed a 3-D application here a couple of years ago,” said David Kanahele, director of simulation solutions. “Customers are starting to embrace that technology, especially because it’s coming into the markets,” he said. Three-D technologies are becoming more commonplace both in cinema and in television. “That’s the direction this industry is going, taking technologies developed outside of this industry — gaming technologies, entertainment systems — grabbing that and utilizing those. Simulation hasn’t always been like that,” he said. Thirty years ago, the projection and display industry itself could drive the technology developments, but now, “Things have flip-flopped. We’re now more interested in riding other technology waves,” he said.
Lockheed Martin Corp. introduced a Holowall — a hybrid of video teleconferencing and 3-D projection display. Essentially, two parties located in disparate places can look at the same 3-D image, explained Scott Pottenger, an engineer on the project. A small camera embedded in the center of the screen allowed the viewers to see each others’ images on the screen, while the 3-D images of either the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine model or a digital rendering of a typical Middle Eastern village, popped out between the viewers, like on a virtual 3-D tabletop.
“If I were to grab a tent or something and move to the right, the remote participant would also see it move. And they can do the same thing,” said Pottenger. “The real magic here is the collaboration due to the 3-D."
"You can tell it’s not necessarily a finished product, not necessarily the level of polish of something that we would normally put out in front of industry peers, customers and media. But we felt it was important to bring it here to spark the fuel of innovative discussion over what might we do with this technology,” said Chester Kennedy, vice president of engineering for the company’s global training and logistics branch. Potential applications include helping maintainers train on jet engines and conducting “right-seat ride” exchanges between incoming and outgoing combat commanders, to learning medical procedures.
A tent version of the system could be set up in a half-hour at a cost of $2,500 to $5,000, Pottenger said. “It’s a very low-cost solution from that standpoint.” In the near future, he said that the plan is to continue developing the system, incorporating elements such as face and voice recognition software. The ultimate goal is to make it an augmented reality experience perhaps by having the user wear the computer and some special glasses so that he wouldn’t have to be tied down in a special room.
The blending of virtual worlds and reality is seen in many new products in the simulation industry.
One of the more popular booths at the show, which was attended by nearly 20,000 people, involved the avatar of an elderly Afghan woman who could communicate with passersby. She would stop them in their tracks by making it clear that she could actually see and hear them. In reality, there was a person from Manhattan-based Organic Motion Inc. acting out the part behind a panel 50 feet away. A suite of sensors, cameras and microphones captured her motions, facial expressions and voice and digitized them, allowing her to control the avatar in real time. She could see and hear the audience, thanks to a strategically placed camera and microphone. During the demonstration, company officials said that their offering would be a cost effective way of giving troops realistic close combat experience without having to hire actors.
Aware of thecoming budget crunch, many vendors touted their simulations and trainers as affordable and cost savings technologies. The budgetary pressures may actually be a good thing for the industry because it compel vendors and the Defense Department to producebetter metrics for proving the effectiveness of simulation training, industry officials said.
“We on the industry side have to get better at providing a solution that really does add value,” said Phil Carrai, a senior executive at San Diego-based Kratos Defense and Security Solutions Inc. “When budgets are tight, you really do have to prove your mettle.”
CLARIFICATION: A spokesman for Organic Motion Inc. said that the company’s AvatarTracking and Insertion System does not require trainers or trainees to don special suits, markers or sensors. The persons being digitally captured wear their regular clothing or military uniforms while a constellation of stationary cameras picks up their full-body motions and facial expressions.