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April 1, 2010

Solving Real-World Problems Through Virtual Realities: Augmented-Reality Tool Provides Improved Training in Realistic Environments

The Augmented Reality Environment at APL (ARENA), developed by Global Engagement Department staff, provides an enhanced visualization environment. Such computation and visualization capabilities allow information to be displayed and replayed in order to provide clear visual interpretations of phenomenology, or of complex interactions among systems, among people, or between systems and people. Members of the Special Concepts Engineering and Development Group manage the facility, develop tools, and conduct demonstrations.

The ARENA was developed for the Strategic Systems Business Area as a multi-purpose test bed for modeling and simulation, immersive visualization of environments, command and control (C2), and tactical fire control systems emulation to support weapon systems engineering and training.The facility’s primary purpose is to support modeling and simulation applications in areas such as the Trident Strategic Weapon System, Prompt Global Strike concepts, and SSGN (nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine) missions.

The facility comprises ten 72-inch HDTV monitors arranged in two 5-screen semi-circles. The monitors are driven by 15 workstations: 7 dedicated to high-end visual-simulation rendering and 8 used for testing and demonstrating networked, multiplayer simulations. A custom-designed digital switch and a touch-panel controller manage the interfaces.

The facility was designed to support four primary types of applications across a variety of operational domains:

1. Distributed Rendering

Simulations built for training or mission planning benefit from a more immersive view than a single display can provide. Applications developed in APL’s Interactive Simulations Program are built on a framework that allows rendering of synthetic environments across multiple screens. That perspective offers users a more realistic sense of and immersive feel for what they would experience in the real world. It also allows for presentation of a much larger visual data set than what is possible on single displays. One example of this type of application is a distributed rendering of the Lunar South Pole for modeling and simulation of an advanced lunar lander.

ARENA users run the lunar lander/lunar environment simulation

2. Multi-Entity Situational Awareness in Simulated Environments

Although distributed rendering of a single view works well for many applications, a complex operational environment with multiple entities (platforms such as ships, planes, unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs], weapons, sensors, etc.) is different. Maintaining situational awareness of the status of each entity simultaneously is very difficult. For example, consider a forward-deployed maritime operation involving an SSGN, its deployed payloads (e.g., UAVs or unmanned underwater vehicles, Special Operations Forces), and a set of enemy targets. In a simulated environment where each of these entities is operating simultaneously, operators have to “track” each entity as the simulated scenario unfolds. Without this capability, operators would be unable to properly understand and analyze the mission, thus lowering the probability of operational success. Having 10 different “views” (using the 10 screens in the ARENA) of the environment in real time has great benefit for system design and development as well as executing the proper systems engineering analyses to ensure optimal performance.

ARENA’s UAV simulation

3. Multi-Player Training Simulations

The Interactive Simulations Program develops simulation-based training tools for sponsors. To closely mimic the tactical environments in which several participants contribute to a coordinated operation, these tools must enable a team of trainees to conduct scenarios in a common simulation, at separate stations. The ARENA’s array of networked workstations and displays provides a test bed and demonstration platform for these sophisticated multi-player simulations.

4. Command and Control (C2)

With its large multiple-display capabilities and centrally located workstations (each with their own smaller displays), the ARENA can also be used to replicate a command center for C2 exercises. The facility has been integrated with APL’s Global Information Grid (GIG) test bed and used in a number of C2 efforts.

Sample ARENA Applications

  • UAVs in Urban and Mountainous Environments
  • Integrated Fire Control and Launcher Simulator
  • Hovering and Missile Compensation Maintenance Simulator
  • Ship Control Simulator
  • Sensor and Environment Modeling for Port Security
  • Theater High-Altitude Air Defense (THAAD)
  • Lunar Lander/Lunar Environment
  • Distributed Simulation Technology for Training
  • Virtual Learning Environment for Middle/High School Education

For more information, contact Paul Biegel.