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Army's $57 Million Training System Uses Gaming Tech

Computer-simulated platform for preparing soldiers for combat uses a gaming engine. Goals include better preparation and lower training costs.

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The U.S. Army is developing a new $57 million computer game-like virtual soldier training environment aimed at creating a better prepared combat force and decreasing existing costs associated with training.

A company called Intelligent Decisions is the prime contractor for the project, leading the development of the Dismounted Soldier Training System, which will create a virtual environment that will simulate real-life situations that soldiers may find themselves in during battle engagements, according to the company. The system will reduce the Army's need to maintain large-scale physical instruction facilities, thereby cutting its training costs.

The team building Dismounted Soldier is using CryENGINE, a popular computer-game engine, to build the system to give soldiers as immersive an experience possible. The engine will allow the environment to realistically simulate details such the emotions shown on soldier's faces, the way soldiers use standard combat weaponry, and the terrain of countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan where current military engagements are taking place, according to Intelligent Solutions.

Using a head-mounted display and a backpack containing a portable computing system, soldiers in essence play the training game using various controls for using weapons and voice communications. During the training, they will be able to move in ways similar to how they would move in a real-life engagement as well as simulate different points of view and visibility options, such as the normal human eye, thermal, night vision, laser and infrared optics, and the ability to see through different weapon scopes.

The Army has been experimenting with virtual soldier training for some time, including an unrelated project to build a large-scale virtual training environment similar to the Second Life computer game. A year ago, the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Simulation and Technology Training Center released a request for information (RFI) detailing a complex architecture for a virtual world it wants a systems integrator to build for it.

The Department of Defense has been using virtual reality-like games and other computer-simulated virtual worlds as part of a broad effort to provide soldiers with more of a real-world taste of situations they may encounter during warfare. Other military arms that are also experimenting with virtual training include the Navy and the Air Force.

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