Dramatic changes are taking place in the way U.S. service men and women prepare for their assignments. Since 9/11, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is moving from a training cycle in which pre-deployment training events for units and staffs were predictable and occurred every 18-24 months, to one in which deployments are occurring every 10-to-12 months. The Department’s leadership views virtual simulation, where soldiers can experience a wider variety of realistic training scenarios more frequently, as one way to supplement live training to prepare its forces to go into harm's way
One recent milestone on the DoD’s road to training transformation was the delivery in July 2007 of Quantum3D’s ExpeditionDI systems as part of the U.S. Army’s Virtual Squad Training System (VSTS). The VSTS was deployed at the Battle Command Training Center, Schofield Barracks, HI.
ExpeditionDI is an un-tethered (i.e., wireless) man-wearable, open architecture COTS platform that immerses a dismounted infantry squad in high fidelity virtual environments, allowing them to interact with that environment using intuitive and instinctive natural motion and posture. ExpeditionDI’s breakthrough technology achieves this fully immersive experience by allowing previously unattainable levels of freedom of movement and operation while eliminating the need for facility infrastructure.
ExpeditionDI's genesis began in 2003 as an embedded training research project commissioned by the U.S Army Research, Development and Engineering Command - Simulation & Training Technology Center (RDECOM-STTC) under the Embedded Training for Dismounted Soldiers Science & Technology Objective (EDTS STO). That research was dedicated to potential dismounted embedded training solutions for the Army's Future Force Warrior and produced the Distributed Advanced Graphics Generator and Embedded Rehearsal System (DAGGERS). ETDS STO was eventually merged with the mounted embedded training research and became the Embedded Combined Arms Team Training-Mission Rehearsal Army Technology Objective (ECATT-MR ATO). Quantum 3D’s contribution to both Army Science & Technology programs gave the Army insight for the future with respect to dismounted embedded training solutions. The ExpeditionDI product, which is an outgrowth of these programs, leverages the technology developed to address future embedded training requirements to address current needs for immersive infantry simulation.
ExpeditionDI provides one glimpse of a cutting-edge application that allows soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to conduct realistic mission rehearsal exercises, just-in time training, and other transformational missions. The 25-pound ExpeditionDI unit features the fidelity of realistic M4, M16, and M249 training weapons, each equipped with a Quantum3D patent-pending Wireless Controller. The system is battery-powered, and also integrates familiar COTS components such as Intersense precision trackers, Blackhawk Load Bearing vests, eMagin Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) and other products. At the heart of the ExpeditionDI system is a Quantum3D Thermite Tactical Visual Computer— a man-wearable embedded visual computer system that interfaces to the sensors on the soldier’s helmet, body and training weapon, hosts the soldier simulation 3D software application, and provides wireless connectivity to the other soldiers involved in the simulation, as well as the instructor operator.
The ExpeditionDI systems, as encapsulated in the ECATT-MR with RECOM-STTC Science & technology programs, addresses one of the enduring lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) – the importance of preparing for operations in an urban environment. Forces training to operate in this venue must be free to crawl and walk through buildings and sewers, walk down streets, and negotiate other urban infrastructure. Soldiers from throughout the services have stated repeatedly that they must be free to move in a fashion that is similar to what they would do in a combat situation. These instinctive, reactive motions and behaviors are critical to providing a realistic experience for infantry operations.
Because ExpeditionDI is self-contained in terms of processing the 3D environment the soldier experiences and interoperates within, it does not need to send significant data to other soldiers via the system’s wireless network. Similar to on-line multi-player games, ExpeditionDI’s low-bandwidth networking requirements offer intriguing prospects for distributed training. For example, a squad in Iraq or Afghanistan could train with a squad back home preparing for deployment in order facilitate the transfer of lessons learned.
The U.S. military's training programs are also evolving from being completed at one or more fixed-sites, to accommodating the training audience at widely-dispersed training areas. Servicemen and women at U.S. sites routinely train with other U.S. forces, and increasingly with allied and coalition partners, at other U.S. or overseas venues through more capable technology infrastructure. The DoD’s Joint National Training Capability, with persistent and temporary sites in the U.S. and overseas, is one effort to establish a Live-Virtual-Constructive training environment and achieve this new training objective. Since it is designed for deployed operation and incorporates wireless connectivity, ExpeditionDI enables training to be set up in remote facilities or areas on an ad-hoc basis, allowing troops to train as they operate in an un-tethered environment.
Expedition DI's open architecture permits it to operate with a variety of conventional simulation and gaming-based simulation software packages from companies such as AIS SVS, RNI GDIS, Rockwell Collins EP, Virtual Heroes, Bohemia Interactive VBS2 and Quantum3D’s own Lightspeed IGS. Since ExpeditionDI is basically a system level platform, conformance to High-Level Architecture (HLA) and Distributed Interactive Simulation (DIS) protocols via a given simulation software package also permits the system to interoperate with Service legacy training simulators and trainers, and networked environments
As mentioned above, a key component of ExpeditionDI is the system’s Thermite Tactical Visual Computer (TVC). Thermite TVC is a family of small form-factor tactical computers which brings realtime visual computing into deployed environments. Introduced early in DAGGERS’ history, Thermite TVC was originally envisioned as a product line to support embedded training, but the computer has gained widespread adoption in first responder and battlefield applications. Such applications rely on the system’s unique graphics and video capture and display capabilities to display information needed for decision makers and operators.
ExpeditionDI is supplied to the end-user community as a deployable package which can be set up in less than one hour. It can be used at the Joint Readiness Training Center, in National Guard armories, or other Active and Reserve component sites—basically anywhere where soldiers have room to move around. Using its After Action Review (AAR) capability, participating units and individuals can reconstruct the successes and failures which occurred throughout every phase of the training scenario. One of the distinct advantages of ExpeditionDI’s virtual simulation capability is that warriors who participate in an ExpeditionDI-enabled training scenario will be able to immediately glean their lessons learned from the ARR and reinforce corrective instruction with subsequent scenarios without having to wait until a live training facility is available.
The ultimate vision of the ExpeditionDI system is to provide a suite of training devices that can be employed as organic assets within operational units. By providing highly accessible immersive training systems to lower level units, commanders will be given the unprecedented capability to maintain readiness and promote mission success through “anytime, anywhere” simulation-based training and mission rehearsal.
In the not too distant future, it is plausible that ExpeditionDI capabilities will give deployed troops such as Marines on an amphibious ship, or special operations forces at a forward operating base the ability to use geo-specific environments to rehearse for a mission within hours of commencing operations on an increasingly complex 21st–century battlefield.