In the future, if Canadian armed forces are called on to deal with a terrorist attack such as last year’s Moscow hostage siege, 3-D modelling technology could give them the advantage they need to minimize death and destruction.
The ngrain technology, from Vancouver’s i3Dimensions, is currently
being used as a communication tool in planning another project, the $137 million Department of National Defence contract to build the weapon effects simulation project (WES). In the future, however, it could be used to train soldiers through virtual reality, allowing them to familiarize themselves with the lay of the land before setting foot on foreign soil.
Maj. Greg Burton, project director of WES, calls it “”the mother of all laser tag games.””
The project, he says, will comprise a battle group live simulation system with lasers, sensors, radio systems and satellite location devices that will be built at a large facility in Wainwright, Alta. The data on the live exercises will be collected and used to produce after-action reviews for soldiers and commanders. Another smaller system will be deployed in Gagetown, N.B.
Focus on urban combat
“”In the past we used to use blank ammo and go up against each other,”” explains Burton. “”People designated as umpires would follow along and when the battle or engagement was over, umpires from both the friendly and the enemy sides would determine the outcome with little tables that told them the probability of the number of troops that would be killed. It was a very haphazard method.””
The contract for the WES project was awarded to San Diego-based Cubic Defense Applications Group, which has subcontracted to Montreal-based SNC Lavalin to provide support for 10 years, starting in 2005.
At the same time as the army is looking to update its training methods, it is also looking to refocus on training in urban terrain, Burton says.
That has led to his quest to find technology that will allow soldiers to use virtual modelling to train on so they know exactly what to expect before stepping into enemy territory.
“”Last year when we were issuing RFPs for the WES project the army commander asked me to start looking into creating an urban training site for Wainwright that can be seamlessly integrated with WES,”” says Burton. “”He also asked me to look into a bunch of other technologies and things we could use across the army for urban operations training. At the time we were just getting into Afghanistan and the terrible mountains and horrible cities, which are far more complex than just driving through the hills and valleys of central Europe as we had been doing in the Cold War.””
A co-worker introduced Burton to i3Dimensions, which has developed 3-D modelling software that users can interact with.
Burton persuaded the company to develop, along with Vancouver-based Object Raku Technology Inc., a 3-D model of a small village in Wainwright, complete with a whole fleet of typically Bosnian-style buildings, that could be used as an urban training site.
The 3-D modelling not only facilitates the procurement process in terms of showing contractors exactly what Burton wants, but it also allows him to attach cost data that can change according to variables. That makes it an efficient procurement tool, he says. Burton says he was able to have the 3-D village model created and shared among decision-makers in a month. That process, he explains, normally takes much longer.
No more tradeoffs
Don Durand, director of business development at i3Dimensions, says ngrain is the technology on which the company’s software developer kit and product, called ngrain solution, are built.
Durand, whose background includes 12 years as a combat engineering officer for the Canadian armed forces, says the company’s technology overcomes the traditional 3-D tradeoff of interactivity for realism.
“”Right now there is a real tradeoff between how interactive something is and how realistic it looks,”” he says. “”The more realistic it looks, the longer it takes to bring up on your screen.””
I3Dimensions targets the training market in the defence and manufacturing sectors. “”As a military officer, I immediately saw the application of this for training in the military,”” Durand says. “”There are a lot of things I would have loved to have used this for,”” for example, he says, battlefield or emergency response preparation.
“”That’s a big challenge because you can’t really train for something you can’t experience,”” he says. It’s like learning to drive a car without ever getting in one. Simulation is very useful for the military because you can put a soldier in a safe situation and allow him to experience a certain scenario.””
And while that kind of virtual preparation tool is Burton’s “”ultimate goal,”” he says the technology is not there yet. “”Right now we’re not nearly there, and neither is ngrain technology,”” says Burton. “”There’s still a lot of work to be done and the company is going very gingerly at tackling different kinds of problems, but I think they’ve realized they’ve got a hot potato here and they’re doing everything they can to make it work in every circumstance and it does work, it’s a wonderful tool.””