Simulation training technology has come a long way in the last decade; what do you see as the most recent transformative moment that has really pushed the technology forward?
In military training and simulation, there are new technologies emerging that could increase training effectiveness and proficiency. Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), training solutions offer a fully immersive experience with seamless blending of real and virtual. These technologies are now more and more accepted as viable solutions to complement higher fidelity synthetic and live training. The industry is moving toward 4K ultra-high-definition screens and there are emerging technologies with improved foveal renderings that would allow systems to track a user’s eye movements and provide much higher resolution in specific areas of visual focus, rather than across the entire display.
In addition, advances in artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms and deep learning offer a multitude of potential usages to bring the training experience even further to create a seamless experience between the warfighter and the training systems. Game-based learning techniques are being improved to use AI to complement instructors to maximize throughput while improving retention among our trainees. Leveraging advanced game engine technology, fully interactive environments can be adapted to adjust pacing based on a trainee’s performance and individual needs.
Technologies like AR, VR and MR are providing the military with lighter, more agile and flexible training solutions. Combined with fifth generation mobile systems (5G), they could have a number of potential military applications, particularly for C4ISR systems training which would benefit from improved data rates and lower latency (time delay). As 5G could reduce latency in other data-intensive activities, it will enhance augmented or VR training environments, for example for richness of virtual content and for quick head movements that can result in motion sickness.
So, what is transformative is not so much the availability of these different technologies, but the fact that they are available in combination and at the same time.
AR / VR tech is morphing into MR; what does this mean for training aviators and rescue crews to enhance their skills?
This is an important step as we all recognize that pure VR is not sufficient as you do not have required physical haptics to make the experience more complete and ‘real’. Such haptics are provided by overlaying the virtual representation on top of the physical equipment such as a gunnery system or a hoist cable. Other simpler haptics response such as a vibration, are being provided by gloves.
The availability of MR means that an aviator or a rescue crew will be able to train in the MR world and see his own hands and the actual equipment mixed into a virtual world. This will open the door to enhancements of current VR training devices and addition of multiple other applications where the physical haptics are important.
What are the other applications of Bluedrop’s simulation technology that could be brought to market in the future?
We have a tendency to define flight training as pilot training in particular, without recognizing that similar currency and mission requirements exist for the rest of the flight crew and other crews, such as in tactical or armored vehicles. Similar cost and efficiency savings that moved military training into flight simulation has not been realized for the rest of the crew, despite the focus on ‘crew’ level training. New simulation technologies must be applied to crew members, rather than just the air domain and just pilots, to get the full benefit of technology enabled learning. Bluedrop is developing a suite of products to cater to rear crews or crews, more generally.
For the vast majority of rear crew operators responsible for everything from combat SAR to humanitarian relief to utility operations, the first time they face adverse or complex conditions it is live, thereby translating operational risk, increased cost and lower proficiency levels to the use of precious flight hours. As a result, ‘high risk, low repetition’ tasks get practiced the most infrequently contrary to training in any other domain. There is available technology that Bluedrop has developed that enables advancement in (rear) crew training and new development that outlines the research being done to quantify the variables affecting mission performance and the outcomes as compared to traditional training methods.
Simulation training in aviation has moved on from just pilots in a simulated cockpit, to hoist simulation and maintenance training software and hardware. What further benefits do these methods of training bring for the whole crew?
The most important success factor, which is sometimes overlooked in any training and simulation technology introduction, is the expected training outcome. This may sound obvious, but it must be constantly repeated. The real challenge is how do we demonstrate effectiveness of new technology-enabled training if we do not know what to measure and if presently, there is no objective measure. Today in the individual training process, trainees are still mainly qualified operationally through on the job training, live and check rides by an experienced instructor even if advanced Learning Management Systems exist.
The primary benefits for immersed rear crew training is to provide a training device that can include mission and collective training amongst multiple networked simulation devices for a full mission experience. It can be adapted to any helicopter with up to three crewmen. The objective of this new generation of simulator is to enable complex crew communication and decision making in a mission context, including advanced cable dynamics modelling and weapons ballistics simulation, to practice high operation risk missions.
In 2019, Bluedrop announced several new projects in the pipeline, one of which was the next-generation Special Mission Aviator Ramp Trainer (SMART) for the V-22 Osprey. With a predicted lead-in time of 12-18 months for construction, it must be nearing completion; what updates can you offer on this device?
Bluedrop is building a full-sized, high-fidelity and immersive VR ramp trainer for the V-22 Osprey, featuring enhanced specific mission capabilities including ramp operation, hoisting systems, gunnery systems and various mission critical procedural training capabilities. The new SMART will interface with Boeing’s cockpit training devices to allow for fully interactive crew training and mission scenario training. The new SMART will offer a new training capability that helps ensure V-22 operators are mission ready to deliver a trainer that seamlessly integrates with users’ operational needs. Bluedrop will introduce state-of-the-art MR technologies to ensure highest level of immersive experience while providing full haptics for specific areas of interest such as the hoisting system and gunnery system.
The expected delivery to Boeing is planned for first quarter 2021.
How have your previous professional roles prepared you for working for a relatively young company like Bluedrop? Are you more able to envisage where the gaps and opportunities are in the market?
I have been very lucky to have a long career in training and simulation which provides me with a good knowledge of simulation in general and more specifically, of visual systems. VR or MR is an extension of what large visual systems used to be, with the same type of challenges. Latency, resolution, field of view and richness of content are all in play for better immersion experience. I can say that my experience of the business side and my technological background help me to mitigate the development and financial risks, as we are engaged in innovation on a daily basis.
My knowledge of the training process is also an advantage as I can better recognize gaps and propose potential solutions to provide improved effectiveness. Technology-enabled learning is not about technology alone, but more about how we achieve the training outcome and make good use of available and evolving technologies.
How do you envisage the future of Bluedrop’s simulation training equipment evolving to incorporate more civilian SAR operators?
Bluedrop’s simulation and training equipment is first designed to be easily adaptable to different helicopter types. As Bluedrop is a training organization, we understand that it is not all about the training equipment, but more about how it serves the training outcome. So, we can adapt to specific requirements of the civilian SAR operators use cases and make required features available.
Already Bluedrop’s Hoist Mission Training System (HMTS) is a game changer in military SAR hoist training. Recent feedback from the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) Flight Engineers based in CFB Comox, BC, has shown that the HMTS has succeeded in reducing the number of live training flights and that the CH-149 Cormorant helicopter pilots could not believe that it was the students’ first flight because of their level of proficiency in both communication and hoist operation that have been acquired during HMTS simulator training.
In addition, Bluedrop is ready to adapt to civilian training requirements and will consider providing training services to civilian SAR operators if this is a business model that makes more sense. This will obviously depend on required number of training hours per organization. Our vision is to become the training service provider of choice for SAR operators.