Army tests virtual systems for soldier training
December 26, 1997
Web posted at: 2:30 p.m. EST (1930 GMT)
ATLANTA (CNN) -- While it's still effective to send infantry
soldiers crawling through the mud during basic training, the
U.S. Army is testing four virtual-reality systems that can
simulate battlefields and teach specialized skills.
For six weeks, soldiers put four systems through the paces at
Fort Benning, Georgia. Each system can measure performance,
movements and communications.
Reflectors, sensors track movements
One system, Dismounted Soldier Simulation, is for foot
soldiers, who have small reflectors mounted on their uniforms
and equipment. The camera picks up the reflections and sends
them to a computer, which determines the position of the
"All it is is reflective tape, which is reflected by lights
attached to all the cameras," said Charlie Jones of Veda
Inc., which makes the system.
"The magic's done in the computer," Army Operations Analyst
Billy Potter explained, "and that source data projects the
individual into the virtual battlespace."
Another system measures stress
The second system, the Team Tactical Engagement Simulator,
combines a rear-projection display with devices mounted on
the soldier's helmet to track the location of the weapon and
soldier's body through the virtual environment.
Virtual reality training
A third system, from Virtual Space Devices, hasn't been named
yet, but soldiers call it ODT for its omni-directional
Tethers help soldiers maintain their balance as they walk on
the treadmill, while sensors monitor body movements and relay
them to a computer. The computer can change the scenery
accordingly on a life-sized screen that the soldier can
watch. The system causes realistic physical stress.
"When the soldier walks up a hill, he can break a sweat.
That's the unique feature of this device," a tester said.
Advantages vs. cost
Each system costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is
a tough sell because of the Pentagon's shrinking budget.
A government-developed prototype, the Soldier Visualization
Station, may be able to do the same things for less money.
Similar to a video game, it runs on a $10,000 PC.
Soldiers manipulate a joystick and touch buttons and
touchscreens to move around in a virtual combat zone. The
harder they press on the joystick's thumbswitch, the faster
The station can show three views of the world -- daylight,
nighttime and infrared.
While it has no treadmill and no sensors on guns and
uniforms, it provides the same visual feedback as the other
systems, testers said.
All four virtual systems let soldiers examine the locations
of prospective battles or peacekeeping missions. They let
the soldiers experience the terrain of their future missions
by replicating it, Potter explained.
"That would allow some level of mission rehearsal," he said.
"He can walk the streets. He can walk the trails."