Where technology comes alive
Dr. Skip Rizzo of the Institute for Creative Technologies prepares RDECOM Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Marin to go on foot patrol in a virtual world during Marin's visit April 16. Rizzo develops simulation devices with medical applications, such as this one, which allows Soldiers to relive situations that cause post traumatic stress disorders and, with the aid of a counselor, talk through their PTSD.

LOS ANGELES (April 16, 2010) -- In what appears to be a small office in an expansive industrial park near the University of Southern California, Army technology springs to life.

The Institute for Creative Technologies is the launch pad for nearly all simulation technologies for the U.S. Army. The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command has the important role of coordinating what is being developed and delivering it to Soldier.

Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Marin, RDECOM's senior enlisted advisor, visited ICT today and was enthused by what he saw.

"These are the great minds that develop the Army's technology of the future," Marin said.

Lori Weiss, ICT Director of Strategy, Operations and External Relations, began the two-hour presentation by discussing current ICT operations. She said more than 40,000 Soldiers have trained on ICT devices and explained how government and industry collaborations are essential to developing the right product.

"The core areas of work at ICT involve: virtual humans, immersion, graphics, games and simulations, narrative storytelling and learning sciences," Weiss explained. She played a video of the making of Digital Emily to demonstrate how virtual characters are digitally formed.

Weiss discussed how BILAT, short for Bi-Lateral Training, is being developed in an interactive format that will eventually help Soldiers negotiate with local populations by inserting cultural and social situations they need to be aware of, such as tribal customs.

She said the current ICT workforce is about 130 full-time researchers and computer scientists, including USC graduate students.

Research scientist Dr. Andrew Gordon is lead developer of UrbanSIM, the Army's situational simulation training program that can be tailored to different levels of command.

Gordon said UrbanSIM is consistently being refined, and that, for example, the role of the battalion commander can now engage in social and political issues in a hostile environment. He added that the UrbanSim program is primarily used by the Army School for Command Preparation at Ft. Leavenworth Kansas.

Saying the Army NCO is "at the tip of the spear," Marin asked if the program could be pushed to a Soldier's PDA, so a Soldier would have it wherever he goes.

"We could use this to synch the brigade and battalion staff," Marin explained, "and we move around too much. So we need to push UrbanSIM out to every Soldier."

Josh Williams, who was one of the developers of Sgt. Star, an answer-man avatar now primarily deployed in U.S. Army Accessions Command Mobile Vans, explained the process of making Sgt. Star smarter.

Aca,!A"Some of the best feedback we got is from the NCOs who used him,Aca,!A? said Williams. Aca,!A"We found what questions were predominantly being asked and worked more responses into the program.Aca,!A?

Williams also explained the development of the "flatworld experience," how ICT takes "a mixed reality approach, engaging reality and virtuality for an enhanced, embodied experience."

"We're developing a mixed reality world where we're stretching and sharing space, adding immersion and sensory devices and motion graphics to create a life-like experience," he said.

Soldiers will soon enter virtual training environments and encounter scenarios in full sensory, 3D realism so life-like they elicit physical and emotional responses.

Dr. Skip Rizzo, ICT's associate director for medical virtual reality, enthusiastically presented the final briefing about how game-based virtual therapies will help reset the Soldier. Working with physical therapists, Soldiers will be given virtual rehabilitation exercises to perform that will strengthen limbs or joints or help heal other physical wounds.

Rizzo said emotional wounds can now be treated in a similar manner. He explained that post traumatic stress disorders could be treated in a modifiable, scenario-driven program with the support and direction of mental health providers.

"This is not a game," he said. "This has to be credible to pull out the memories."

He placed Sgt. 1st Class Amin Henriquez in a Humvee in a virtual world in which any number of scenarios could be played out. In this world, the vehicle might receive sniper fire, be hit by an improvised exploding device, or experience any number of situations that may have caused a Soldier to experience PTSD.

"This is a talking tool," Rizzo stressed. "This is therapy."

He closed with a glimpse of the future -- the virtual patient. Still being developed in conjunction with the medical community, the premise is a Soldier (or patient) will engage in counseling online that can address any number of mental health issues.

Marin saw immediate application for the virtual patient, suggesting the experience could be deployed downrange so that a Soldier could continue to receive counseling in remote locations.

"Right now the Army focus is on the Wounded Warrior," he said. "Anything we can do to reset the Soldier, to help him overcome PTSD, this is one of our biggest challenges."

In their own virtual way, scientists at the Institute for Creative Technologies are leading the fight.

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