Tryst with 3D props Canadian soldiers

When a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan detonates landmines, it’sa tug between life and death. A tiny mistake could mean instantdeath.

‘The English Patient’ is set in the time of the Second WorldWar. Back then, to defuse a bomb, combatants relied on pliers, andtheir ability to recall classroom lessons, to nip the rightwire.

Thankfully in present times, the technology used by our men andwomen overseas is a tad more sophisticated.

Today, a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan tackling a landminewould be able to turn on a ‘ruggedized’ personal digital assistant(R-PDA), and browse through an electronic training manual, whichcontains, not just words, but a 3D image of the landmine.

He or she would then be able to view and interact with thesimulated “landmine” on the PDA from different angles, even viewingits internal components, before making a move.

Soldiers in Afghanistan may encounter up to 70 different typesof mines. All are lethal, including the ones mounted on stakes20-30 cm above the ground, and can be set off by a trip wire hiddenon ground. Having information in advance on their PDAs givessoldiers an idea of what they may encounter, said Tom Stewart,master warrant officer, Canadian forces J3 engineer operations.

Benefits of simulation technology have reached our soldiersthanks to an alliance between the Department of National Defense(DND) and Vancouver-based Ngrain, a provider of interactive 3Dtraining software.

Information soldiers can access on their PDAs includes theCanadian Forces Landmine Database (CFLD). It contains informationon landmines found around the world, along with a detaileddescription of their features, appearance, locations and how todispose of them.

That’s a tremendous amount of information right in the pocket ofthe soldier – information that increases his or her effectivenessin dealing with landmines, said Stewart.

He says placing the CFLD on the PDA has opened the door toloading many other databases onto the device. In addition, as thelandmine database has been designed to be easily updated,information on new mines can be added and existing records can beamended as necessary.

On the ground, soldiers access information through “knowledgeobjects”, said Paul Lindahl, president and CEO of Ngrain. Aknowledge object is an interactive 3D model or scene that visuallycommunicates information about the equipment, machinery or assemblyit represents.

Ngrain develops 3D knowledge objects from the military trainingmanual. By clicking on a knowledge object on their PDA, soldiersget all the information they want, said Lindahl.

For instance, he said, a soldier in Afghanistan has to assemblea satellite dish used in communication. The dish comes in threesuitcases. If the soldier has never witnessed the dish beingassembled before, he or she can quickly refer to a 3D trainingmanual on a PDA – clicking on the knowledge object that hasinformation on satellite dishes. That click provides access to awealth of information in the form of animated designs, hyperlinksand additional reference material.

“Setting up 3D knowledge objects is easy,” said Lindahl. Theyare created by subject-matter experts who are military trainersusing an Ngrain product called Producer. “Our experience has beenmost subject-matter experts are not familiar with 3D. So there isno programming or scripting involved in setting up knowledgeobjects. If you can operate Microsoft Office products, you can useNgrain Producer.”

Once these objects are set-up, they can be inserted intocourseware. Much like Acrobat Reader or a Flash player, this is a”viewing” technology, said Lindahl.

He said most soldiers fighting overseas belong to the videogames generation. “They are used to computers and an interactiveapproach to learning. So if they are taught in 3D, they immediatelyabsorb that information.

He said Canadian soldiers have been using knowledge objects and3D training on their laptops for four years now. With the newcontract, they will be able to access knowledge objects on theirPDAs. This access, he says, “saves 40 per cent of the total time”that would normally be spent looking for such information in otherplaces.

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