By Orli Belman
Institute for Creative Technologies

LOS ANGELES -- Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Ty Carter visited the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, Sept. 3, getting a first-hand look at how this Army-sponsored research center is turning its virtual reality advances into cutting-edge tools for Soldiers.

"It was an honor to be visited by Medal of Honor recipient, Staff Sgt. Carter," said Dr. Laurel Allender, director of the Army Research Laboratory's Human Research and Engineering Directorate. "His visit to the Army's Institute for Creative Technologies brings into sharp relief the reason for our work -- to prepare Soldiers for their mission, to develop them as leaders and to support them upon their return -- using the most powerful, most effective technologies the Army can develop."

Carter, who has been lauded as a hero both for his bravery in battle and for speaking openly about his own treatment for post-traumatic stress, learned about ICT technologies designed to build resilience, develop communication skills and address PTS and traumatic brain injury.

Accompanied by his wife Shannon, Carter saw demonstrations of ICT prototypes that leverage entertainment technologies for treatment instead of play, including Bravemind -- a virtual reality exposure therapy system for treating PTS and Jewel Mine -- a video game-based rehabilitation tool that uses the Microsoft Kinect to track movement.

"Young people today relate to material presented in video games," said Carter. "Technologies that help Soldiers stay interested so they want to do these types of training or therapies are on the right path."

Researchers showed Carter how far the institute has come in developing believable virtual humans that can speak, understand and gesture like real people. He visited the ICT's graphics lab, where research into creating realistic digital doubles is applied to Hollywood blockbusters and Army training prototypes. He entered the Gunslinger saloon, where computer-generated characters take on the iconic roles of the Western bartender, bad guy and damsel in distress, while a real person plays a Texas Ranger who must save the day. The mixed reality scenario demonstrates the degree that story, character and advanced technology all play a part in getting people immersed.

He also experienced ELITE, a training prototype for learning and practicing counseling skills that uses a virtual human role player. Carter also met Ellie, a virtual human guide that is part of SimCoach, ICT's online platform designed to assist military personnel and family members in breaking down barriers to care by providing anonymous support.

"Just talking to a virtual human and getting information and resources might be an excellent first step for someone who is having an issue," said Carter.

Carter's visit provided ICT scientists with an opportunity to hear from someone who their research is designed to assist.

"Having a Medal of Honor recipient and active duty Soldier visit our institute really drives home how important it is to transition technology out of the lab and into the hands of our service men and women," said Clarke Lethin, ICT's managing director. "Staff Sgt. Carter inspired everyone here in their efforts to conduct research that will benefit Soldiers and society at large."

About the USC Institute for Creative Technologies
At the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, leaders in artificial intelligence, graphics, virtual reality and narrative advance low-cost immersive techniques and technologies solve problems facing service members, students and society. Established in 1999, ICT is a DoD-sponsored university affiliated research center working in collaboration with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. UARCs are aligned with prestigious institutions conducting research at the forefront of science and innovation. ICT brings film and game industry artists together with computer and social scientists to improve how people interact with computers and expand what they use them for. ICT prototypes, including interactive virtual humans, virtual reality systems and video game trainers have transitioned for use in military training, health therapies, education and more.