BY ALLEN MCDUFFEE
If the Army is going to keep up with military readiness pressures while also seeing a reduction in troop size and stagnant budgets, then it’s going to need more cutting-edge videogames.
Last week, the Army Contracting Command issued a Sources Sought notice for companies interested in demonstrating “mature technologies” for military training. Northrop Grumman thinks its Virtual Immersive Portable Environment (VIPE) Holodeck just may be the answer.
Using commercial, off-the-shelf hardware combined with gaming technology, the VIPE Holodeck 360 degree virtual training system provides users with a high-fidelity immersive environment with a variety of mission-centric applications, including simulation and training, mission rehearsal and data visualization. The VIPE Holodeck can support live, virtual and constructive simulation and training exercises including team training, cultural and language training and support for ground, air and remote platform training. Off-the-shelf technology keeps costs down while also making future upgrades and maintenance easy to perform and affordable, says Northrop.
Last year, the VIPE Holodeck took first place in the Federal Virtual Challenge for the navigation category, an annual competition led by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Simulation and Training Technology Center, for the system’s Kinect integration navigation sensor, which gives users the ability to crawl, walk, run, stop, jump, move side to side in the immersive environment.
Where the VIPE Holodeck moves ahead of other virtual simulators, according to Northrop, is advanced situational training where service members can walk through an area of operation in the replicated virtual environment to prepare themselves for what they may encounter in that exact environment in reality. To enhance that training, operators can drop threats into the environment, including IEDs and enemy shooters, as well as signals that should tip them off to potential threats and see how they respond before they actually find themselves in that situation.
And it’s precisely that versatility that the Army is after.
“For us to be able to execute realistic training — good training — we have to be able to bring that operational environment” into the virtual world, said Brig. Gen. Michael Lundy, deputy commanding general at the Army Combined Arms Center, during the AUSA Aviation symposium earlier this month. “We want to get away from having multiple environments, virtual gaming and instruction, and go to one synthetic environment, get to a lower overhead and integrate the full operations process … according to the common operating picture.”
“The great thing about virtual reality and gaming technology [is that] it’s moving so rapidly that really it has endless possibilities that we can do,” said Ryan Frost, Northrop’s program manager for the VIPE Holodeck. “If you can think it, we can create it, eventually.”
Northrop says it’s also exploring options for VIPE as a stepping stone to live-training within the medical field, as well as law enforcement and first responders for situations such as live-shooter or hostage scenarios.