We will be publishing a full review of I/ITSEC 2019 next month but here are some takeaway highlights of the week. Rick Adams, Andy Fawkes, Rona Gindin, Dim Jones and Marty Kauchak report.
Held December 2-6, I/ITSEC 2019 showed that the Simulation & Training sector is vibrant and expanding. There were a total of 550 exhibiting companies including 81 exhibitors at this conference in the “first time” or “returning after a long hiatus” categories. This were 11 more companies than in 2018. Total attendance was 17,400 with over 1,984 international visitors from 56 countries.
A Rising Tide Supports Many Boats? – Simulation/Gaming Software companies were out in force at I/ITSEC. Bohemia Interactive Simulations announced VBS4, a new whole-earth virtual desktop trainer and simulation host with improved usability and VBS3 backwards-compatibility. Epic Games showcased Unreal Engine, an established, widely popular game engine, now being used by a significant number of defence specialists in applications ranging from joint fires training to a parachute trainer. Building on their recent success in the US Army STE Program, VT MAK announced that its simulation and visualisation software will be core components of the RAF’s “Gladiator” programme, which will support distributed collective air training. It will be interesting to watch how these companies and others in the S&T software business will progress in the next few years. Will there be consolidation or will an expanding market continue to support a range of companies?
Suits and Simulations – Not one of the largest stands by any means but crowds flocked around Brightline throughout the show. Brightline provides interactive and virtual reality experiences for a range of government and commercial clients and have teamed up with Teslasuit, providers of suits with haptic feedback and motion and biometrics capture. In one scenario, trainees can rehearse in simulation and then during live training the suit gives them haptic feedback to guide them down the rehearsed path. A truly fascinating concept and one to watch.
LVC Remains Prominent – “The last year has brought a lot of advancement in Live, Virtual and Constructive [LVC] for Cubic and the market in general,” Mike Knowles, President of Cubic Global Defense, told MS&T during an exclusive interview, principally in the air and ground domains. A major forcing function is the strategic shift to quickly evolving, renewed, near-peer threat scenarios together with a paucity of training areas and ranges in which to train in a high-fidelity, high-threat setting. Knowles pointed out, “To really simulate them, in a way that can truly be threat representative, LVC is going to have to be the way we make that happen”.
Expanding S&T Market – The US Congressional Modeling & Simulation Caucus is expanding its advocacy of S&T beyond the military community, pursuing opportunities to use S&T competencies in highway engineering, medicine and other adjacent high-risk sectors. Healthcare will be the focus of their meeting in February.
More Choice in Training Systems – There was some talk at the stands as to the role and viability of expensive, full-task training devices in military training. Companies are offering the military aviation and other communities increasingly capable part-task, reconfigurable and the like trainers, many exploiting XR, to which more training syllabus tasks can be more efficiently and effectively offloaded.
Partnership – There was an emphasis from military speakers on developing a partnership with industry to expedite development of the latest technologies and speed products to the warfighter. This is not the first time that message has been sent but the calls were perhaps more strident this year, probably as defence authorities contemplate the tsunami of new and game-changing technologies approaching the training sector.
XR and 5G
Cost and efficiency are at the crux of the surge toward mixed, virtual and augmented reality military training, all under the XR umbrella. In the Signature Event “5G – From Hype to Reality”, panelists including Major General Maria Gervais agreed that sophisticated new technology and hardware, together with access to 5G when it becomes readily available in the next few years, will enhance virtual training operations “exponentially”. Since 5G will be “faster than the human mind,” latency promises to be very low, various technologies will blend more easily, and, as a result, servicemen and women in far-apart locations will be able to train together, in seemingly real time. Costs will be far lower, they predict, because, as one speaker said, “We’ll bring training to the soldier, not the soldier to the training.” Soldiers can virtually enter scenarios in dense urban areas or challenging rural ones without the need to replicate situations or equipment in physical space, or to transport soldiers from one location to another. Instead, they can meet up in a virtual room no matter where each is stationed.
Militaries around the world are on the search to innovate and exploit the latest developments in S&T with the need to reduce the time to contract and lower the barriers to non-defense small companies. As an example of this determination the USAF held a private “Simulators Pitch Day” at I/ITSEC, asking small businesses to “creatively repurpose existing technologies that could be leveraged to satisfy Air Force training needs”. The businesses included Perceptronics Solutions, Information Systems Laboratories, DTI, PlaneEnglish, Take Flight and King Crow Studios with some awarded a $1 million contract in as little as 20 minutes. They were also given the chance to pitch their initiatives to the wider I/ITSEC community at a “Media Day” event on 5 December. It will be interesting to watch how this USAF “Shark Tank” initiative develops and whether it is taken up by other militaries in the MS&T domain.
There’s networking on the exhibit floor, in the conference rooms, at the hospitality events … and on the shuttle bus. One morning, MS&T Editor Rick Adams sat next to Erik Bushland, an Animation/Video Game Design teacher at Sachse High School in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. Erik was with a group of advanced computer science and animation students who were presenting at the I/ITSEC Future Leaders Pavilion.
The Future Leaders Pavilion enables secondary school students to demonstrate technical projects they have developed which focus on modeling, simulation and training. The Pavilion also enables the students to experience the unique technology only available at I/ITSEC. Schools from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, New York, Texas, Virginia, India, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have participated since 2002.
The Sachse students wanted to “improve their town,” so they talked with local First Responders, whose training was behind the times, largely reliant on 2D maps which are difficult to keep updated in the fast-growing community. Using ESRI City Engine, the students created a 3D base city, populated it with thousands of models representing real buildings, plus thousands more objects such as street lights and stop signs. They also created a functional day/night simulation, an interactive weather script including volumetric clouds and snow which sticks to road surfaces, plus accurate physics such as wheel movement.
Pretty impressive for 16- and 17-year-olds.