I just spent the last several days at a training and simulation conference where companies try to sell (mostly) the military a variety of things to help them train their soldiers. It was the first time I’d ever been to an event like this and, to be honest, I was pretty blown away.
The types of training equipment ranges from simulators that replicate full aircraft cockpits and injured bodies to software that teaches fire fighting techniques and detail accurate “dummy” weapons and mines made of plastic.
By far, the coolest stuff was the physical simulators, many of which cost as much as 1.5 million each.Here you have a few of the medical mannequins with simulated wounds. They look a bit like the NPCs from a Call of Duty game.This is a hang gliding simulator for cowards like me. It even has little fans to blow wind in your face.Climb into this Mork from Ork like egg device and you find yourself in a fully immersive cocoon of flight simulating awesomeness.This was one of the most clever environmental units. A projector inside this “cone of silence” like enclosure is pointed at a mirror in the back, which then reflects the image into the enclosure itself. It works really well and is one of the cheapest systems I saw at just $15k-ish.Not every simulator was a flight one. This rig is all set up for training ground based vehicles. Next time I play Halo, I want one of these for manning a Warthog.Some of these simulators were truly MASSIVE in size, like this one. I don’t know what plane it was simulating, but it was easily the size of 747 cockpit.The Flyte simulator was my favorite. It looks a bit like one giant half of a capsule. The inside of the capsule is the “screen” and it extends above, below AND around you completely filling your vision. Behind the pilot are SIX projectors that fill the space with the environment around you. If I were Bill Gates rich I would have this in my fun room.Not everything was a simulator though. This company basically made a military grade version of laser tag. There were quite a few products like that.
One booth was demonstrating a special attachment for real weapons. It prevents them from firing real bullets, but you’re still holding a real automatic pistol that ejects it’s brass, just like a real weapon would. It’s a close quarters training tool. They demonstrated it by having a role player accost you in a scenario. The encounter eventually escalates to the point that he or you is going to shoot. They let me try it out. He got the draw on me, but I managed to fire off several shots as well. If they were real bullets, we’d both be pushing daisies. The tech makes the ethical decision of when to shoot very real in an otherwise contrived encounter. It was both fun and kind of scary. I’m not really a gun person, to be honest. I don’t really buy into the idea that people need lots of guns for self protection, and I really don’t think peope should be able to open or concealed carry weapons in residential or city areas. My role playing scenario challenged those ideas a bit, although didn’t ultimately change them. In light of all the police shootings we’ve experienced recently, I almost wonder if an experience like this could help both law enforcement and civilians better understand the other party’s experience. There were a lot of other pretty amazing bits of tech. Machine gun and bazooka simulators. More Occulus Rifts than you can shake a hobbit at. A system that enabled you to WALK around in VR. With your feet. That was pretty cool.
It was, to say the least, an interesting few days. I walked away with a new perspective on both the government and the military. In some ways, it raised my regard for how we train our military and civil law enforcement members. It also sort of depressed me a bit that we go to such extreme lengths, and spend SO much money preparing for things that probably won’t happen, while spening little to fix things that are happening today (children without food, overcrowded schools, crumbling infrastructure.) But on the way out the door, this little crab shuffled up to me, gave me a look, jumped in fright, then skittered off. It was pretty funny. Life is funny.