Canadian armed forces use 3D for training under fire

Suppose you’re a Canadian soldier deployed in Afghanistan and the light armoured vehicle you’re riding in breaks down, in dangerous territory. Facing the threat of hostile fire at any second, the last thing you want to do is have to flip furiously through a manual for repair instructions.

With Canadian soldiers now on duty in dangerous environments in Afghanistan, getting the right information quickly can mean the difference between life and death.

Thanks to a new contract the Department of National Defence has awarded to Vancouver-based NGRAIN, a provider of interactive 3D training software, soldiers will have access to critical information on their military–specification, “ruggedized” personal digital assistants (R-PDAs), in the field.

Master Warrant Officer Tom Stewart, of Canadian Forces J3 Engineer Operations, said in an interview from Geneva, Switzerland that no other 3D system can match the NGRAIN one.

“The ability to impart the knowledge and the logic of the actual internal components . . . of a landmine-nobody else can do it,” Stewart said. “This is the next best thing to putting an actual mine in their hands.”

He added that there is very little training material available that covers how to deal with landmines: “It’s very difficult to buy realistic training aids.”

NGRAIN president and chief executive officer Paul Lindahl gives the example of a light armoured vehicle getting a flat tire in a war zone.

Getting the tire fixed with minimal delay is crucial, and NGRAIN’s 3D system is the fastest way of teaching soldiers in the field of doing this.

“3D is intuitively obvious,” Lindahl said in an interview. “You’re able to deliver the knowledge at the point it’s required, at the time it’s required. Whereas, if you have to read a manual, it takes forever. If you’re actually doing it in a 3D format, the soldiers in the field are able to immediately grasp the concept.”

The military has discovered that in training its soldiers, they tend to remember only about 10 per cent of what they read. However, they can recall 90 per cent of what they actually do, Lindahl said.

“Interactive 3D is hands on.”

Another area of critical importance to the military is that of landmines. Suppose a soldier comes across one in the field. With the NGRAIN system, details of each type of mine, including what it looks like, how it works and how to detonate it will be available in the field on the R-PDAs.

“Our technology allows the military to send information on equipment, how to identify it–in the case of landmines, how to detonate it–in a format that’s deployable in the field,” Lindahl said. “It’s been designed for issues in the military around the dissemination of complex information.”

The NGRAIN system, also used by the U.S. military, allows critical updates to be quickly sent to the field.

“In the case of Afghanistan and Iraq, there’s equipment being sent over there that the forces have never been trained on,” Lindahl said. The NGRAIN system can provide the necessary training information in a highly usable format.

There’s no question that the system will save Canadian lives, Stewart said: “I have no apprehension saying that whatsoever. Safety is equitable to knowledge, and they’re going to be far more knowledgeable with this system.”

In 2003, the DND said it was working with NGRAIN to provide 3D modelling technology as a means to improve war-games training.

The most recent contract, worth more than $500,000, is to provide the National Defence Mine/Countermine Information Centre (NDMIC) and the Canadian Forces Landmine Database (CFLD) with interactive 3D landmine objects. NGRAIN already makes it possible for soldiers to access 3D representations of landmines on their desktops, laptops and tablet computers.

The new contract extends that ability to R-PDAs.

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