I-GAME is a laptop-based virtual trainer that troops can use to practice proper dismounted IED-clearing procedures. (IPKeys Technologies)
A virtual drill sergeant could soon be barking orders at U.S. military service members learning to find and mark improvised explosive devices (IEDs), one of the major threats to troops in Afghanistan.
The hand-held detector edition of Improvised Explosive Device Gaming and Modeling Environment, I-GAME, is a laptop-based virtual trainer that troops can use to practice proper dismounted IED-clearing procedures. It features 17 kinds of IED threats, several sweeping devices such as the Minehound, a first-person view to develop terrain awareness, and a virtual drill instructor to keep troops on track and correct their sweeping methods.
The trainer aims to put users into a realistic virtual mission, where they can go through a vulnerable area and practice proper clearing formations and procedures, culminating with marking a threat.
John Daly, production manager at I-GAME developer IPKeys Technologies, said the game could function as a practice round for troops even as they wait to conduct live exercises on training lanes.
The New Jersey-based company, which specializes in technology integration consulting and software, built the game to run in a classified environment and generates the same responses to IED threats that a real detector would emit.
“We’re looking into adding all sorts of controllers into it, and even getting some sort of haptics [tactile feedback technology] to really reinforce the muscle memory,” Daly said, though he conceded that the device is not meant to replace physical training.
“You’re not going to get the same feel for how you should be doing it unless you’re actually on the training lanes,” he said.
Wii controllers don’t quite simulate the weight of a Minehound.
A Lethal Threat
Even as troops draw down in the Middle East, training for IED threats remains a concern during training. The bombs have become the weapon of choice for insurgents and terrorists, and can be found throughout the world. Thus far in 2012, IEDs have accounted for 111 U.S. “hostile fatalities” in Afghanistan — almost half — according to iCasualties.org, a privately run website that tracks military deaths.
“No matter where we go in the future, this is going to be the main threat that we have to deal with,” said Todd Richmond, a project director at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), who has worked on counter-IED training systems.
The hand-held detector edition is a further development of IPKeys’ original I-GAME Mission Creator, a gaming technology that allows rapid development to either re-create past missions for analysis or generate “what-if” scenarios.
The game is physics-based, meaning that everything from radio frequency signals to jammers are modeled to match real-world conditions as closely as possible. This allows troops to walk through a realistic environment — one they might even enter in real life — and become familiar with layout and weaknesses ahead of time.
Kirk Hymes, IPKeys’ director for modeling and simulation applications and U.S. Marine Corps programs, said the original goal of I-GAME was to allow people to operate against each other in a safe environment.
“The goal of all modeling and simulation, all serious games, is to be able to create either an expensive or extremely dangerous environment and have individuals train in that environment,” he said.
Hymes said IPKeys developed the dismounted version out of I-GAME Mission Creator at the request of the Joint Center of Excellence, part of the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO). The program can be developed into further “modules.”
In addition to the hand-held detector version, IPKeys also is looking into marine applications such as anti-terrorism protection training in ports.
While IPKeys is working on a release of the hand-held detector edition and keeping tight-lipped about a new set of upgrades, Hymes and Daly said the project is in the testing and vetting stages. JIEDDO would not comment on the trainer.
Bruce Lowry, JIEDDO modeling and simulation program lead at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake, Calif., said the program is “too early in our development phase” for comment.
Possible additions that IPKeys is considering for the trainer include different in-game equipment and looks for the different U.S. military services, additional decoys and scenarios, and multiplayer capabilities.
“What we’re trying to do is create an environment where you can challenge each other, enjoy what you are doing, and still get better in a real-world environment because you are going through the process of learning,” Hymes said.
This kind of video game training could supplement traditional classroom training or other programs such as ICT’s counter-IED offerings, the Mobile Counter-IED Interactive Trainer and the Dismounted Interactive Counter-IED Environment for Training.
Richmond, who has worked with JIEDDO to develop these walk stage technologies that put trainees into virtual missions and help them read terrain to identify vulnerable points, expects counter-IED training to shift from larger training centers and even laptops down to the more mobile iPad and iPhone. The main challenge, he said, is converting and shaping the materials to fit on the smaller screens.
“You have to redesign the content for each of those,” Richmond said.
Lauren Biron is the editor of Training & Simulation Journal.