ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, MD — Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Sailors have benefited from the research created by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and its academic partner, the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California. The research collaborators continue to make great strides in the fields of artificial intelligence, simulated graphics, immersion and virtual reality-supporting both military and civilian research.
Established in 1999 as an University Affiliated Research Center, the Army’s Institute for Creative Technologies launched an effort to link Army and academic researchers with the creative talents of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Bridging these worlds, researchers believed it would help influence the trajectory of technological research and advancement in both the military and civilian sectors.
This influence has become a reality. In the civilian sector, industry has adopted low-cost virtual reality methods, the research and development has enabled citizens at museums from Illinois to Nanjing to have real-time conversations with digitally recreated survivors of genocide.
In the military sector, leaders from every echelon use its technologies to sharpen situational awareness, interpersonal communication and decision-making skills. One example of this is the Team Assessment and Learner Knowledge Observational Network, or TALK-ON.
TALK-ON is a mixed-reality test bed designed to explore questions of simulation fidelity, assessment and feasibility involved in using consumer virtual reality technologies for armored vehicle leadership training. The TALK-ON prototype is focused on cognitive and communication skills training of novice tank platoon leaders, who must accurately assess tactical situations, make quick decisions, and communicate effectively with the tank crew, other tanks within and across platoons and higher command.
“Our work on the TALK-ON project represents a true collaboration across ARL and ICT, where we have engaged in joint data collection with subject-matter experts and trainees to study how they experience the tank simulator technology,” Dr. Pete Khooshabeh, TALK-ON principal investigator and acting regional lead of ARL West said. “If the project team was exclusively comprised of just academic or military researchers, it would have been less successful than our cross-disciplinary combined effort.”
Since its doors opened, researchers have created scientific knowledge about the ways computers can better simulate the human experience. Its developers have built on this research to create immersive capabilities to engage users to explore, create, innovate and validate.
“Through partnerships with the ARL Simulation and Training Technology Center in Orlando, Florida and the national center of modeling, simulation and training in Central Florida, innovations have been integrated into many solutions that serve Army readiness,” Col. Harold Buhl, deputy director of the Human Research and Engineering Directorate, ARL Orlando said.
While the institute is expanding transfer of technology and research to industry and commercial organizations, the relationship continues to serve as a valuable asset to the DOD and military. Troops continue to deploy in complex environments across the globe confronting highly adaptive adversaries, requiring them to make complicated decisions, lead diverse teams of humans and machines, and operate in joint, multi-agency and coalition environments.
To prepare commanders for these complicated decisions and coalition environments, develops user-driven cognitive trainers.
One such trainer is DisasterSim, a game-based tool that teaches members of a joint task force how to respond to a humanitarian assistance/disaster relief mission in a foreign country.
In DisasterSim, trainees must attempt to restore essential services, reconstruct civil infrastructure and provide humanitarian assistance, all while managing interactions with local civil authorities, non-governmental organizations, and other U.S. government relief organizations.
They must use their judgment to prioritize and execute lifesaving tasks while operating within DOD limits related to medical relief and infrastructure repairs. Trainee actions in the exercise can impact future interactions and may also influence overall scenario. The game is used as part of U.S. Agency for International Development’s joint humanitarian operations course and was sponsored by U.S. Army South.
To simulate multi-domain battle, future training must be a convergence of mixed reality and live training and delivered to the point of need. The applied research project One World Terrain, or OWT is moving the Army toward this future and supports the Army modernization priority for a synthetic training environment.
This project assists the U.S. military by creating the most realistic, accurate and informative 3-D representations of the physical and non-physical landscape. Informing the Army modernization priority for a synthetic training environment, the goal is to establish an authoritative 3-D terrain dataset for next-generation modeling and simulation systems. This capability will reside in infrastructure. Research for this effort has transitioned to the U.S. Marine Corps tactical decision kit.
“The focus of One World Terrain is to create foundational 3-D geospatial data that can be collected, processed, stored and served to any number of different modeling and simulation end points,” said Ryan McAlinden, director of modeling and simulation at ICT. “We want to give field units the opportunity to own and manage the data that they rely upon for training, rehearsal and operations.”
Soldiers also face significant challenges outside of the strategic and tactical domains. To help them tackle these challenges, researchers and developers created the Emergent Leader Immersive Training Environment, or ELITE.
ELITE targets leadership and basic counseling for junior leaders in the U.S. Army. The experience incorporates a virtual human, classroom response technology and real-time data tracking tools to support the instruction, practice and assessment of interpersonal communication skills.
The training application is also used to educate U.S. Army sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates (ELITE SHARP POST), as well as Army command teams on the SHARP program (ELITE SHARP CTT), and trains junior Army leaders to successfully intervene when observing behavior that could lead to potential incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault (ELITE SHARP BRAVE).
“Recently the Army Research Institute validated the effectiveness of training with the ELITE platform, as it was shown to increase users’ knowledge of appropriate response to SHARP incidents and users’ confidence in responding to SHARP incidents,” said Matthew Trimmer, project director at ICT. “That was a big win for not just the project members at ICT and ARL, but for the entire ELITE team. It truly has been an honor working on this effort.”
The team also includes the SHARP Academy, Army SHARP Office, U.S. Army Forces Command, U.S. Army Pacific and U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Capability Manager Virtual and Gaming, which serves as the Army’s user representative for virtual and gaming capabilities to satisfy Army training requirements.
The Army-funded team collaborates across multiple disciplines to develop cutting-edge technologies to better assist in these scenarios. Together they push educational research forward to achieve readiness faster and sustain it longer.
Researchers have also leveraged this multidisciplinary approach to support service members returning from operations using virtual reality and virtual human characters through Bravemind: Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy, or VRET. With this technology, patients with post-traumatic stress can confront their trauma memories.
Through a virtual retelling of the experience, the therapy produces a meaningful reduction in patients’ symptoms. VRET is an endorsed, evidence-based treatment and can be found at more than 90 sites, including VA hospitals, military bases and university centers. Patients use VRET – guided by a trained therapist – to confront their trauma memories through a retelling of the experience. The therapy has produced a meaningful reduction in posttraumatic stress symptoms and recent clinical research supports the conclusion that VR is an effective tool for delivering this form of “evidence-based” treatment.
Another way the team supports returning service members is through the Virtual Interactive Training Agent for Veterans, or VITA4Vets system. It is a virtual simulation practice system designed to build job interviewing competence and confidence, while reducing anxiety. It was originally developed by the institute with support from the U.S. Army, Google.org, and the Dan Marino Foundation to support young adults with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. Because of its success with the Dan Marino Foundation and Google.org, the platform was augmented to support out-processing military service members and veterans.
“Regardless of talent, experience or temperament, some returning service members may find it challenging to express how their skills and experience can translate into the private sector,” Trimmer said.
By conducting interdisciplinary basic research, innovating with applied research, demonstrating with advanced technology development, and creating best-of-breed prototypes to include transitioning and commercializing research and applications, the Army’s ICT team leads the way in maintaining the military’s technological advantage.
“This partnership is revolutionizing the way people understand and prepare for many situations they will face,” said Buhl. “Whether it is a Soldier experiencing combat with confidence gained in tough realistic and iterative immersive training, or a Soldier working through the rigor of post-deployment transition, the technologies are adding value to our Army and to our society.”