ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 22, 2014) -- U.S. Army researchers are developing technologies to enable the next generation of simulators for training uniformed construction and combat engineers.
Virtual training and simulation experts from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, known as RDECOM, along with industry partners, have made significant progress in dynamic-terrain research, officials said.
Julio De La Cruz, chief engineer of synthetic natural environments for RDECOM's Simulation and Training Technology Center, or STTC, in Orlando, Fla., said the results of the team's work will improve Soldiers' training effectiveness by providing a much more realistic experience. STTC is part of the command's Army Research Laboratory.
Requirements for construction-equipment training are shifting in order to support complex terrain interactions, De La Cruz said. The new simulations help Soldiers learn about soil resistance when digging and plowing; moving objects such as boulders, steel pipes, logs and crates; and supporting improvised explosive device detection and defeat.
"It gives Soldiers more realism by training in an environment they would be deployed to," De La Cruz said. "By bringing in the physics-based realism, when they dig into different types of soil, you can capture that information.
"We're happy to see this trainer as realistic and accurate [compared to] the actual equipment. It's a step up by bringing dynamic terrain into this capability."
The simulation advancements are geared toward enlisted Soldiers with the military occupation specialty of horizontal construction engineer. They use bulldozers, cranes, excavators, graders and other heavy equipment to move tons of earth and material to complete construction projects for the Army.
The commercial off-the-shelf systems used with currently fielded Construction Equipment Virtual Trainer, or CEVT, simulators do not include terrain and soil models customized to key Army locations, De La Cruz said.
To provide Soldiers with experience working in varying soil compositions, researchers developed models for three geographic areas -- a desert profile comparable to the southwest United States or Afghanistan; a central U.S. profile modeled after Fort Riley, Kan.; and a third that represents Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., the Army's training location for construction equipment.
Greg Dukstein, engineering director for Dignitas Technologies, which performed research and development for STTC, said adding key Army locations to the simulator was a key aspect of the project.
"The trainers today have generic construction sites that look like a city's downtown," Dukstein said. "We integrated more geo-specific terrain so they could do their training in an area like Afghanistan or Korea, critical areas around the world where the U.S. Army is involved."
The current CEVT simulators are also standalone stations that do not provide collaborative training.
Instructors at Fort Leonard Wood provided key feedback and recommendations to help shape the research effort and achieve the goal of training in an immersive environment, said Hector Gonzalez, an STTC science and technology manager for synthetic natural environments and the technical lead for this effort.
"By giving Soldiers the enhanced capabilities, it's collective training where what one student does affects the others. You're training more realistically by providing a better, more meaningful experience," he explained.
Soldiers must also be skilled at adapting when they encounter different soil profiles and weather conditions. The new research allows the soil mixture to be configured to meet training needs by changing the percentages of clay, silt, sand and water. Precipitation, temperature and wind can be altered to change soil conditions and teach the students how to make adjustments for water-saturation levels, soil erosion and vehicle mobility.
STTC's work is also influencing other major Army simulation programs, Dukstein said. Programs of record like One Semi Automated Forces and Synthetic Environments Core, among others, are benefiting from these dynamic-terrain research efforts. An obstacle-clearing simulator for training Soldiers on clearing IEDs is planning to incorporate STTC research. The Army's Common Driver Trainer is actively integrating elements into their baseline now.
"Other programs are leveraging the capabilities that we researched and developed. The return on investment has been great on this," he said.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.
Army Technology Magazine [PDF]