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ARCHIVED - Virtual training for troops

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A new virtual reality tool can enhance training for soldiers, police, fire and emergency measures personnel.

Warrant Officer Claude LaPointe (left) tosses a "flash" bang grenade as Sgt. Pierre Harnois prepares to enter the room.

Warrant Officer Claude LaPointe (left) tosses a ?flash bang? grenade as Sgt. Pierre Harnois prepares to enter the room. This simulation display at NRC-IIT Fredericton will be used for R&D to improve military training tactics.

Cutting-edge virtual reality training is helping soldiers at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick act more effectively in urban conflict, while increasing their odds of survival.

The base's experimental new immersive reflexive engagement trainer (IRET), which the military developed with help from NRC's knowledge industry cluster in New Brunswick, can also enhance training for police, fire and emergency measures personnel, while fostering local business and jobs.

IRET resembles a next-generation flight simulator for front line personnel. Real-world settings blend with a virtual environment.

IRET came about partly because military training, usually on real equipment, has posed new challenges as Canadian officers and equipment deploy overseas. IRET allows the army to blend hands-on practice with virtual enhancements while reassigning critical equipment to the field.

?The Canadian Forces have had to be very innovative in terms of how they train soldiers and officers, and how they increase the throughput of that training,? says Marc-Alain Mallet, director of business development and research support at the NRC Institute for Information Technology (NRC-IIT) in Fredericton.

?The NRC cluster was able to energize a consortium of organizations, companies, levels of government and stakeholders toward this common vision ' leveraging existing infrastructure, expertise and focus to have a social, scientific and economic impact,? he says.

Through IRET, the Department of National Defence has became a research anchor in the cluster, which regional firms use as an R&D hub to turn federally funded research into competitive advantages for Canadians and products for global markets.

IRET resembles a next-generation flight simulator for front line personnel. In a 7.5 square-metre room, multiple high-definition projectors beam simulated action across three walls. Sound and laser monitors track users? reactions in real time, watching who fires where, and who crosses whose field of fire, to create tighter teamwork.

?When soldiers breach this physical room, they're confronted with different scenarios inside that allow them to practice their protocol,? says Mallet. ?The IRET setting blends real-world settings with a virtual environment. The room is there. Instead of a paper target, you have a video projection.?

?It's much more immersive and realistic,? he adds. ?Human-computer interaction is a large component of this. It removes the technology interface, such as a keyboard or mouse. People actually walk ? they run, they move, they crouch ' and they're able to do so under controlled conditions, which is very important.?

Instructors can alter scenarios at will. Because students react to different circumstances with each run, their cognitive learning is better than if they had repeated a familiar exercise. It's one reason why other military forces tell Mallet that IRET outstrips their own virtual reality trainers.

The NRC-IIT cluster also fosters virtual reality technicians from New Brunswick universities and colleges, hiring students in computing science, electronics engineering, electrical engineering, educational technologies and 3D animation.

While the Canadian Forces are immediate beneficiaries, Mallet says its validation of this technology is persuading entrepreneurs to adopt, license and create new ventures. IRET's success is why companies are voicing interest in adapting NRC-IIT prototypes to train civilian first responders such as police, firefighter and medical technicians.

?It's extremely important and beneficial that IRET addresses an immediate need of the Canadian Forces,? says Mallet. ?But IRET is also developing new tools and new applications that will translate into business opportunities for Canadian companies. We see potential applications in a whole slew of training challenges.? End