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March 13, 2018

Driven by the perpetual improvement of computing technology, the emergence of affordable high-quality displays, and the increasing fidelity of graphics and simulations, virtual reality and augmented reality are no longer technologies confined to the pages of science fiction novels. They’re technologies that are available, accessible, and increasingly prevalent.

In fact, there is an ever-expanding ecosystem of devices that turn smart phones into personal virtual reality experiences, and even young children have the ability to experience and interact with augmented reality.

Take Pokemon: Go as an example—just a few years ago, the concept of using your smartphone or mobile device as a window to an altered reality where imaginary things that you can interact with suddenly appear would have seemed like something from a futuristic movie. Today, that app is old news and steadily declining in usage and popularity.

The point is, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are here to stay, and they’re increasingly pervasive technologies. And, as with any new, innovative commercial technology, the federal government could, and should, be exploring the use of VR and AR as a solution for some of its more complex challenges.

As with any new innovation, the beneficial uses of AR and VR are limited only by one’s imagination. However, there is one particular area where VR and AR have already begun to deliver incredible benefits to the federal government: training and simulation—something that can be a major headache for both civilian and defense organizations.

The challenge of training

Training and professional development are essential in any organization. Employees need to learn the basic fundamentals necessary to do their jobs when they’re on-boarded, and they need to have those lessons continuously reinforced during their tenure within the organization to keep their skills and knowledge honed and sharp. Employees also need to be educated on new advancements and skills required to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.

This is a universal truth that applies to employees in the private sector as well as military personnel, civilian personnel, and all federal government employees.

But training military personnel and government employees can be a major challenge. These organizations are massive. They’re often distributed—sometimes with employees separated by hundreds of miles or even oceans. And, depending on what the training entails, these individuals could be training on things that are highly classified, extremely expensive and—in some cases—potentially deadly. That’s simply not something that your average accounting or consulting firm will ever have to worry about.

All of these challenges combined means that the government has a large number of people to train—people that may not be gathered together in one place. It means that operating some of the equipment these people will be training with can be costly to the American taxpayer. It also means that any mistakes that are made during training—which is a natural part of the learning process—could result in loss of taxpayer dollars or lives.

VR and AR as an alternative to live training

With all of those challenges making training difficult for government organizations—especially the military—it’s easy to understand why an alternative is desirable. VR is a cost effective and efficient alternative to deliver training to military personnel and civilian employees.

VR instruction is exceptionally immersive. It’s also able to be tailored and customized to the student—often making it more effective than simple classroom instruction.

VR can enable the military to give hands-on training to personnel and civilian employees for tasks or jobs that may not be feasible to simulate in real life. If the hardware they’ll be training on is too expensive, or requires too many individuals to operate, or could cause harm if mishandled, VR simulation is, by far, a superior alternative.

Also, although some require dedicated hardware to run, VR applications are effectively just software. This means that they can be pushed out closer to where the individuals that need training reside. It’s also often cheaper and easier to make multiple VR simulators—even those with extensive hardware requirements—than it is to make multiple of the things that students will be training on—especially in the case of expensive military platforms and vehicles.

If you want to see an example of how VR can accomplish all of these things, you only have to look at one Navy VR training and simulation solution—CSRA’s Virtualship®.

Virtualship® is literally a virtual ship

Virtualship® is a maritime simulation system and software package that drives rich simulation for the United States Navy. This VR-driven solution enables the Navy to conduct a wide range of marine training activities, including:

  • Operation and Mission Rehearsal
  • Bridge Team Resource Management
  • Navigation Team Training
  • Dynamic Positioning
  • Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) training
  • Force Protection
  • Combined Fire Arms and Combat System Trainers
  • Control of Unmanned/Remotely Operated Vehicles
  • Total Ship Training Simulators
  • Virtual Reality Training
  • Small Craft/Boat Operations Training
  • Research and Engineering

Virtualship® effectively delivers an experience that—from a training experience—is the same as being on the bridge of a ship. In fact, many of the systems are a full physical representation, with screens depicting what a sailor would see if they were physically standing on a ship’s bridge.

Prior to the introduction of Virtualship® and its predecessor simulation solutions, the Navy would have to train personnel on actual ships or in traditional classroom settings, which created some obvious challenges. Shipboard training requires more than one person to operate a ship, so a whole crew was needed for training. Also, any mistakes during training could have had significant, negative ramifications to an expensive ship and its crew. In the traditional one-instructor-to-many-students classroom setting, it was difficult to achieve training objectives efficiently as the capacity to teach a majority was lost.

Virtualship® is the latest of the Navy’s chosen simulation and training systems, which have grown progressively sophisticated over time. Today, the number of issues, challenges, and problems that can be simulated are almost limitless. And Virtualship® is capable of creating rich, immersive and realistic environments—even environments with realistic geographies, multiple ships in the water, and complicated environmental or tactical problems to overcome.

Virtualship® systems are deployed to multiple locations all over the world. This makes them extremely accessible to trainees with very little need to travel. This helps ensure that more frequent training is possible, and also drastically cuts the cost of sending personnel to train. This also makes it easier to utilize the system to train experienced personnel, making it a better solution for continuing the education of America’s warfighters to keep their skills sharp.

Ultimately, Virtualship® gives the Navy the flexibility to train sailors when and where they’re located—across multiple areas, in a wide range of conditions, and in an almost limitless number of situations and environments. And it gives them the flexibility to continue their education and training. Virtualship® is the perfect example of the role that VR and AR can play in the training and education of military personnel and government employees. It’s a system that the Navy should be proud of, and that other agencies should be looking to replicate.

To learn more about Virtualship® and the use of VR in military training, click HERE to download the whitepaper, Maritime Simulation Virtualship.