Combat-medic training cards are augmented with multimedia content when viewed with a tablet or smartphone. (University of Central Florida)
Playing cards don’t typically save lives. But researchers at the University of Central Florida are using augmented reality combined with a special deck of cards to reinforce procedures and concepts for combat medics.
The project, sponsored by the Army Research Laboratory’s Simulation and Training Technology Center and investigated by researchers in UCF’s Mixed Emerging Technology Integration Lab, known as METIL, starts with a simple deck of playing cards. The combat medic deck contains seven procedures, with the individual steps on different cards.
The card decks have been around since 2009, mimicking earlier card game variants that were used successfully by organizations such as the Defense Acquisition University. The supplemental technology can be used to reinforce concepts already taught in the class or as part of a basic learning strategy pre-deployment. But the new aspect, augmented reality, began late last year.
Users can scan the card with a tablet or phone, which performs a visual search that compares the shapes on the card and matches them to the appropriate training file in a database, much like happens with the Google Goggles app. This brings up a piece of media — usually a video or a 3-D animation — that shows the procedure.
“Paper-based cards are great, but the imagery on them is only 2-D, so it’s very static,” said METIL program lead Angela Hamilton. “A lot of it is quite graphic as far as the nature of the injuries. But the procedures themselves that we were training had to be described in text. With augmented reality, we were able to launch either video or animations.”
Some of the videos and animations are developed in-house, while others were developed by the University of Miami as part of an Army sponsored Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research project.
“We wanted something that would help the combat medic to see something more visual,” said Christine Allen, science and technology manager for STTC. “Medical interventions are typically more hands-on, so when you start looking at anatomy and physiology and how things react, it’s a lot easier when you can see it in a 3D-environment versus looking at it in a textbook.”
The procedures covered by the cards are ones typically used in the “golden hour” — the first hour after a traumatic injury when the victim needs lifesaving care.
“It was just a much richer media experience, a much richer learning experience, to be able to visualize something completely like that,” Hamilton said.
Researchers developed card decks for combat medics and combat lifesavers, and one for an Improved First Aid Kit, but only the combat medic set is currently being paired with augmented reality technology.
“We want to develop things for multiple modalities — develop once, deliver many,” Hamilton said. The cards form the basis, but the content has also been reinterpreted into an Apple iOS app (a flash card-based game with cognitive spacing based on user performance to enhance retention), as an online flash game (a variation of solitaire) and, now, as an augmented reality-based media experience.
The seven procedures included on the cards are:
■Surgical cricothyroidotomy (3-D animation)
■Combitube (3-D animation)
■Needle chest decompression (3-D animation)
■Occlusive dressing (3-D volumetric/live action)
■Sternal intraosseous (live action)
■Hemorrhage control (3-D stereoscopic/live action)
■Combat application tourniquet (live action)
While the combat medic edition is nearly complete, the other card decks are in the research and development phase. Hamilton wasn’t sure how long transitioning the combat medic edition would take due to government uncertainties, but said that the project “will be done within the next month or so. We’ll be handing it over to them and also helping them with that transition strategy.”
As far as an evaluation with actual combat medics, Allen said combat medics and subject matter experts have been consulted to make sure the procedures are accurate and keep their integrity.
“But we have run several studies on the paper-based cards and iOS version, and we’ve had steady results come out of that,” Hamilton said. “And each time we do a study we make some usability changes.”
The content, keeping in step with most good mobile content, is quick. Videos typically last between 30 seconds and a couple of minutes.
“With mobile especially, guys are on planes or out in the field, their attention is diverted, there are distractions,” Hamilton said. “You’re not doing mobile learning in the classroom where you’re only focused on one thing, so that’s why we try to keep these things very short.”
While the cards and augmented reality can be used for new students trying to familiarize themselves, they will also be used as refreshers for combat medics who don’t work primarily in their medical field every day of the year.
“When the time comes for them to be deployed or activated in their medical role, these kinds of quick, inexpensive technologies can be easily implemented,” Allen said.
Adding on the augmented reality modality is also a cheap way to integrate more content. Hamilton said it would be particularly beneficial for organizations with an existing library of assets that they can link to without the need for development.
“But even the content development itself is relatively low-dollar,” she added.
The project was funded with $50,000, and Allen hoped that testing in the schoolhouse with a pre- and post-test would show a good return on investment and high percentage of learning.
Many research projects besides the combat medic cards are trying to harness the power of augmented reality. For example, ARL is working with the Office of Naval Research and the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory to develop augmented reality tools that support live training and situational awareness for dismounted soldiers, principally at the squad level. Augmented reality is also being developed for maintenance training, with companies from NGrain to Lockheed Martin trying their hands with the technology.■