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Building a Virtual Continent

Mar. 19, 2013 - 01:11PM   |  
By LAUREN BIRON   |   Comments
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It’s a training dream come true: an island with every kind of terrain you would ever need for practice exercises, tucked neatly away in the North Atlantic. This land mass exists only as a data set, but for simulators in need of realistic terrain or vector data, it’s a place to call home.

Missionland, a product of the NATO Science and Technology Organization, Modeling and Simulation Group, is an entire continent — 2,000 kilometers by 2,000 kilometers — of data designed to make consistent distributed training easier. Shared training exercises require that participants use the same data sets so that the virtual worlds match up. Many previous data sets were ill-suited for use by simulators across a coalition, either because they did not meet various requirements or because they included information that was difficult to share with other militaries. The fictional continent also avoids making a given country feel threatened because practice exercises are taking place using their geospecific data.

The project, which was developed between 2008 and 2012, produced real-world coordinates, maps, vector and elevation data, terrain texture, 3-D models, and imagery, all reusable and available to NATO partner nations. The data offers about 30 meters of resolution for most of the continent, although urban areas or areas of interest have even more detail.

The wide swath of available terrain includes coasts, mountains, desert, forests, cliffs, fjords, and a variety of different climate zones. There are also urban features, such as eastern and western cities, borders, roads, and airports. The data set focuses solely on static material, rather than on more dynamic features such as weather.

Because creating such data manually would have take prohibitively long, researchers built a tool to blend in details of the real world. However, the real vector data now has different names and is not readily distinguishable.

While formal development of the data set ended at the close of 2012, Arno Gerretsen of the National Aerospace Laboratory said in an email that various organizations from the participating countries will add to it as they incorporate the dataset into their simulations.

“We expect more users of Missionland during this year,” said Gerretsen, who is a research and development engineer with the training, simulation and operator performance department. “It is also expected that once people are using the dataset, they will start to make (small) improvements to it, for example, by adding more detail to certain areas of the Missionland continent.”

Partner countries included Belarus, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, and the U.K.

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