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Sandia National Laboratories are developing what they’re calling serious gaming .Experts apply the technology and methods of the game industry to real-world national security problems. Using pre-release stand-alone augmented reality headsets, computer scientists Tam Le and Todd Noel have recently adapted augmented reality to enhance physical security training for nuclear security.
“Security goes beyond guards, gates and guns and includes engineered solutions and complex systems that are designed to protect against the theft of nuclear materials and sabotage,” said Dominic Martinez, manager of the International Nuclear Security Engineering (INSE) department in the US, the department aims to improve the security of vulnerable stockpiles of nuclear weapons and nuclear material worldwide.
Sandia has developed an extensive security training curriculum ranging from introductory classroom courses on the fundamentals of designing protection systems to more advanced training with hands-on field exercises conducting vulnerability assessments.
“It’s important to educate others on how to properly secure nuclear materials around the world,” Martinez told Sandia’s website. “These professional development courses help minimize the learning curve and bring everyone up to international standards and best practices as fast as possible.”
One of the workshops Sandia teaches is straightforwardly called the International Training Course (ITC). This three-week course has been conducted every year and a half for more than 35 years, with frequent revisions to reflect improving technologies and international best practices.
ITC is an exercise-intensive course built around designing a physical protection system for a hypothetical nuclear power reactor or nuclear storage facility. Originally, the facility was presented as a floor plan on paper, but several years ago Le created 3-D models of the hypothetical nuclear facilities to enhance the students’ understanding of the layout.
“We model the mock facilities so the students can see the spatial relationships, see where things are in relation to each other. This helps them to understand a facility’s vulnerabilities, which can be difficult to see on paper or in writing,” Le said.
In addition to classic simulations and visualizations for the ITC and other training courses, his recent work with augmented reality has the potential to revolutionize how the nuclear security engineering training team conducts workshops.
By combining augmented reality technology with Sandia’s Integrated Security Facility, Le said students can peer through walls to show all the processes needed to handle and protect nuclear material without using hazardous material. The facility uses the security systems originally designed to protect Category I nuclear material and now serves as a venue for hands-on physical security training. With its fully functional physical security and material accounting systems, the facility is invaluable for demonstrating physical security, material control as well as safety concepts and principles.
“With augmented reality we’re able to do things that we wouldn’t normally be able to do. We can show virtual characters handling material, putting it into the system, show how the material is taken out, the material flow, understand the vulnerabilities and where materials can be lost. With this technology, we can actually show what is going on behind the walls,” said Le. “The application of these new holographic technologies will shape the future of our visualization, training and analysis capabilities and is only limited by our creativity.”