Canadian Forces expand virtual reality training capabilities
OTTAWA—While some Canadians unwrapped new video game systems over the holidays, the Canadian Armed Forces looked to develop their own. The Forces are planning to buy a motion-capture suit that would “dramatically upgrade” their virtual reality training programs.
They plan to use the suit, complete with 19 separate sensors, to make their virtual training more realistic, modelling complex and detailed environments in what’s called a Corner Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (Corner CAVE) system.
“The Corner CAVE is a cutting-edge system designed to create virtual 3D reproductions of anything that can be modelled in 3D, such as mechanical sub-components of an engine, a complex weapon system, or a piece of terrain,” according to an advertisement for the new suit.
“The incorporation of this upgraded capability would greatly increase the scope of projects that could be encompassed under the Corner CAVE system.”
The system projects the virtual environment onto two or three walls to provide an encompassing environment for training. In the military context, the Corner CAVE can be used for everything from small arms training to realistic lessons on repairing equipment in the field, from interacting with local populations to treating soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress.
It’s not clear how much the motion-capture suit will cost. Estimates from lower-end suits are in the hundreds of dollars, with higher-end equipment costing significantly more.
The Forces have requested bids from suppliers by Jan. 12. The Forces says it needs the suit to further develop its Corner CAVE training programs.
The current motion-capture system at CFB Gagetown in Oromocto, N.B., can capture movements only in an eight-foot by eight-foot area. Because it’s a camera-based system, it is difficult to accurately map interactions with equipment. Props used in the system also block the camera’s line of sight between the cameras and the motion-capture sensors.
The system also requires six hours to set up and calibrate.
The Forces are increasingly turning to virtual reality, including video games, to help train their personnel for real-life missions. The Canadian Press reported in December 2003 that some in the Forces were skeptical of the turn to the virtual, calling it a cost-cutting tool that can’t replace physical drills.
But Maj. Sam Pollock said the virtual training is not meant to replace those drills, but to augment them and speed soldiers’ training.
“In my opinion, (with) current technologies . . . there’s always going to be a compromise with simulations. You’re never going to be able to perfectly replicate the real, actual, live sort of field environment,” said Pollock in an interview earlier this month.
“But, on the other hand, you can optimize that time you spend in the field by using simulations in advance, going through your basic weapons handling drills without actually being in a live-fire (environment). Where you’ve got a very low-stress environment, and you can actually then go on to the live-firing portion and be much more effective.”
Another advantage, Pollock says, is that by simulating repairs on an engine or the handling of complex weapon systems, the actual engines and weapon systems can be deployed in the field if need be.
The development of virtual training took off within the Forces around 2007, according to Pollock, when the army realized they needed to quickly address a “shortfall in certain training capacities” in the military.
The army now has more than 230 simulators in 125 locations, with seven primary sites. It’s not only the military looking to advance this type of technology, however. Pollock said the video game industry is actually outspending the Canadian Armed Forces on these technologies.
Something to think about next time you’re playing Call of Duty.