For training exercises, the U.S. military often uses Military Operations on Urban Terrain (MOUT) simulations. These involve having the trainees move through a physical environment designed to mimic real-life urban areas with buildings, roads, and paid actors populating the town. The environment also includes pyrotechnics and props that add realism to the simulation. MOUT sites are highly effective, but they’re also costly, time consuming, and not conducive to simulating varied scenarios.

Due to these limitations, the Department of Defense (DoD) approached the Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC) to help it develop a new type of military simulation that combines live, virtual and constructive (LVC) training environments. The live portion of this refers to the trainees, the equipment the trainees use, and the human actors in the physical combat environment. The virtual aspect is humans interacting with the trainees through technology – typically via a video game or simulator. Finally, the constructive component refers to simulated forces (similar to video game enemies) not under direct human control.

LVC is executed at Iowa State University through VRAC’s MIRAGE mixed-reality research lab. The MIRAGE is a large room designed with both real and virtual elements. Within the MIRAGE, VRAC constructed a series of walls, barriers and digital props that when pieced together can simulate a variety of environments such as rooms, buildings or a war zone checkpoint.
Mirage_1280x300The way LVC training works within MIRAGE is best understood through example. With the war zone checkpoint simulation, the trainees are equipped with fake guns that shoot out a traceable signal. They also wear markers on their body that allow a remote computer to track their position and movements. For this simulation, the MIRAGE is set up with a few road barriers in front of a large screen. On the screen, a virtual truck stops at the checkpoint, and potentially hostile virtual people (either controlled by a human at a computer or by artificial intelligence) exit the truck. Depending on how the simulation plays out, the trainees might find themselves taking cover behind the road barriers and exchanging fire with the virtual people. Because all of the live, virtual and constructive elements of the simulation are in communication with each other, it can be determined if the gunfire from one of the virtual enemies hit one of the trainees, for example. If it does, the trainee’s tactile vest activates, buzzing the trainee in the spot where he or she was hit.

The LVC system and MIRAGE are flexible. Currently, it’s possible to setup an entirely new simulation scenario in about 30 minutes. With a MOUT site, creating a new scenario could take days and cost a significant amount of money.

button_320x200_mirage_gunThrough the extensive tracking systems involved, it will also be easy to review and assess training sessions soon after their conclusion. The monitoring and tracking also provides the military the opportunity to coach its trainees remotely during the sessions. For instance, if one of the trainees has an elevated heart rate, the trainer monitoring the trainee’s biometrics could offer advice through a head set.

Future additions to the LVC training simulations include the ability to adjust the simulation in real-time. For example, if a trainees’ biometrics indicate that a room clearing simulation isn’t difficult enough, the simulation could adapt by adding more virtual civilians to the room that resemble the enemies.

Overall, LVC helps increase the flexibility and efficiency of simulations while significantly decreasing their cost. This has applications and benefits not only for the military, but also for a multitude of other organizations and fields that employ simulations.