Gaming Technologies for the Benefit of VR Military Simulation

Gaming Technologies for the Benefit of VR Military Simulation


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The fact that head-mounted virtual reality (VR) displays have become more affordable makes them more accessible to military trainers looking to cut costs by creating tightly engineered virtual environments that replace live role players, full-scale shoot houses and bring training closer to troops.

Making all this possible are rapid developments in computer technology, and the inexpensive, high-resolution LCD displays developed for smart phones and commercial game engines.

Consumer gaming technologies offer the scale to bring down costs and deliver local training to what the military calls “the point of need,” rather than limited to regional or national training centers.

According to, virtual reality can safely replicate otherwise expensive and dangerous training scenarios, letting trainers repeat and modify as needed.

For complex maintenance tasks, machines can perpetually be taken apart and rebuilt in VR without fear of wearing down real parts. And because trainees can train anyplace they can hook up to a computer – as opposed to jetting off to a life-size simulator – time and travel can be saved.

VR technology enables the Army’s Close Combat Tactical Trainer (CCTT), originally created to provide virtual training support for mechanized infantry, expand into other areas. The Dismounted Soldier Training System lets individual soldiers train in the same virtual environment used by crews of M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

The Army Research Lab Orlando’s Simulation and Training Technology Center (ARL-STTC) researches not only augmented reality for dismounted soldiers, but mixed reality in which virtual elements such as people, targets or ballistics can be mapped into a live field of view.

“Can we put a live soldier out in the woods and provide them virtual opposing forces with realistic effects and accurate ballistic solutions?” asks science and research training specialist Col. Harry Buhl. The real prize Buhl says is not just to design a mixed reality simulation with one soldier and a few augmented virtual enemies in a live environment, but to “get the larger capability, where we’re dealing with formations of tanks and Bradleys and multiple soldiers. That’s a little farther down the road.”

Commercially-licensed game engines have enabled GDIT to rapidly create a series of shipboard engine-room trainers for the Navy that provide point-of-need scenario training that in the past, would have required expensive life-sized simulators.

One promise of the immersive nature of virtual reality training is what experts call presence: the notion the VR experience is so profoundly real, a user feels fully present in its environment.

Improved screen resolution provides better realism and clarity. According to Stephen Hodgson, virtual solutions product developer for training and simulation at Saab Defense and Security USA, there’s been great progress with head-related transfer function (HRTF), which mimics the way humans perceive and locate sounds – letting systems tune sound profiles to individual users. New graphics cards also help. The NVIDIA 1080 graphics cards, released in May, are optimized for virtual reality headsets.

Commercial VR headsets, already not heavy, will get lighter with time. Bandwidth is increasingly capable of supporting multi-user scenarios and wireless connectivity will eventually allow VR users to operate untethered, increase the usefulness and safety of simulations.

What are the limitations? While commercial gaming engines might incorporate one square kilometer of terrain, the distances of 90 square kilometers demanded by Army tank training requirements, is too much real estate to render in the highest graphical detail and still display in real time.

Haptics – the ability to deliver physical touch feedback to users – presents another hurdle. Haptics can also allow users to see their hands in virtual environments, adding an element of realism. Despite progress, however, tactile feedback is still years behind visual or aural response.