US Army Turns to Hollywood to Prepare Soldiers for Deployment
A decade ago, the US Army turned to the University of Southern California, the gaming industry, and Hollywood to develop virtual reality systems to simulate the battlefield situations and cultural interactions that soldiers would face in deploying overseas. The result was the establishment of the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICF).
The institute uses technologies in artificial intelligence, graphics, and immersion to create interactive simulations that help soldiers not only see the training situation but also interact with virtual soldiers, insurgents, and civilians.
To continue that work, the Army awarded the institute a $78.5 million, 7-year indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contract…
Under the contract, ICF will continue its research on advanced modeling and simulation, capitalizing on research and development in disciplines within the entertainment industry. The research results are being transferred for implementation into prototypes of systems to be used by the current and future US military force.
The institute has already developed dozens of soldier training tools. For example, the FlatWorld Wide Area Mixed Reality demonstration is a 3-D gaming environment that melds concepts of stagecraft from Hollywood, including real-world props, with projection screens, to make a virtual world soldiers can move around in and interact with other people, both real and simulated.
Also, ICF has developed for the Army the Enhanced Learning Environments with Creative Technologies (ELECT) suite of portable training programs. One of the ELECT programs is called UrbanSim, which is a PC-based, virtual training application to prepare leaders for complex operational environments, including experiencing and dealing with behaviors of different types of people.
The UrbanSim trainee takes on the role of a battalion or brigade commander in a foreign country. The commander attempts to maintain stability, fight insurgency and crime, reconstruct the civic infrastructure and prepare for transitions in a densely populated urban environment with multiple social and cultural groups as well as key individuals. Trainees develop and update their situational understanding, anticipate the potential 2nd and 3rd order effects of their orders, and direct action to develop, break and exploit connections among key factors.
Another ELECT program is BiLAT, which teaches soliders skills for conducting meetings and negotiations at the interpersonal level with Middle Eastern people. Trainees assume the role of an Army officer who needs to conduct a series of meetings with local leaders to achieve the mission objectives. The trainee must establish his or her own relationships with the virtual characters and be sensitive to the character’s cultural conventions. Any misstep could set the negotiations back or end them completely.
ICF will complete the initial work under the contract by Sept 29/11. The US Army Research Development Engineering Command’s Acquisition Center in Durham, NC manages the contract (W911NF-04-D-0005).