Military Taps Avatars for ‘No Pain’ Training


The movements of performers are captured by a ring of cameras to create avatars that follow the actions of each person in real time.



Defense giant Raytheon is using motion capture and video game-based technology to develop sophisticated virtual simulators for the U.S. military.

The defense contractor uses motion capture technology to create ‘avatars,’ or virtual service members, who can help in the training of military personnel.

Similar to a video game, service members can train on digital versions of real world equipment by moving their avatars around a virtual landscape. The avatars, for example, are used to train soldiers operating the Patriot Air and Missile Defense system. The simulation technology has also been used to train troops on the Javelin missile system and to teach sailors how to respond to onboard emergencies.

Luis Ruiz, 3D Team Lead for Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services told that the simulation software is an authentic recreation of real world scenarios.

“What makes it cool is the equipment,” he said. “For example, the crane that is used to reload a Patriot missile is programmed the exact same way as its real-life counterpart.”

A cost-effective method of training on expensive military hardware, the simulation software has a ‘multiplayer’ setting that lets a number of service members participate in the same virtual task, mirroring the way a unit would perform in real life. “In a multiplayer environment, it helps to identify your teammates, as well as yourself, in that environment,” Ruiz said.

Raytheon’s software also uses artificial intelligence. “You have the option of going through the training as a multiplayer, if you don’t have enough players with you, artificial intelligence will walk through the training with you,” Ruiz said.

Because the virtual ‘world’ is built using video game software, Raytheon employs the same off-the-shelf technology as game makers, such as game controllers, making the simulation extremely accessible to troops.

“This generation of ‘warfighter students’ are known as the ‘video game generation,’ Patricia Vasquez, multimedia production manager at Raytheon Intelligence and Services told “We’re using technology to bring their training into a form that they can easily understand.”

Raytheon, which manages a range of military training at over 600 locations around the world, has been using motion capture on its virtual simulations for the last 2 years. The company builds the avatars by capturing actors’ movements on a series of cameras set up at a facility in El Paso, Texas.

“Motion capture reduces the amount of hours that an artist needs to animate because the actor drives the performance,” Ruiz said. “It can create a series of avatar animations in one day that would take an artist two weeks.”

The video game industry, however, is constantly evolving, and Raytheon expects to build some of the latest technologies into the next version of its software. “We’re exploring Oculus Rift, and new game controllers, augmented reality, and mobile,” Vasquez said. “We expect to develop more of these multiplayer scenarios.”

With hackers posing an ongoing threat to the U.S. military and its tech partners, however, Raytheon told that it keeps its virtual training software well away from the cloud. “We still deliver the disk [to the military] to avoid cloud-based vulnerabilities,” Ruiz explained.


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