We have all seen the pictures. A spouse, parent, or child draped over their loved ones grave because he or she died in combat. That fear is always there when someone you love is in the military. Yet, you never know such a harsh reality until someone in a Class A uniform comes knocking on your door.
Is there hope that virtual reality technology can help take some of that fear away? When you think of VR technology, your mind will most likely focus on video games. Most people don’t think of them as a training tool. The bigger question is this: can VR simulators help save lives? The military is starting to think it can.
The UK’s military have used simulations since the late 1980s. They were (and still are) used for training purposes. Plextek is an electronic design consultancy in the UK. They started making “mock-ups” for the British Government’s Ministry of Defense. (They focus most of their programs around training army medics.) However, they are a little different than VR simulations. They created “hulking cabins” so new trainees could learn the “how-to’s” of battle. This training was all done in physical, simulated environments.
Collette Johnson, the Medical Business Development Manager of Plextek, said these simulations cost an exorbitant amount though. “[So] when the Oculus Rift arrived at the office we immediately saw an opportunity. It was user friendly, compact, and designed to be used by consumers.” She stated VR simulations, however, ran in the low tens of thousands of pounds. Compared to millions of pounds, it sounds like a pretty good trade off.
Johnson also mentioned this type of simulation was easy to develop for. That it was an “appealing way of learning” for the new recruits, most of whom were 16-24 of age. And that it was appealing because most of them were already used to playing video games. These simulations also allowed for each trainee’s performance to be monitored. Johnson explained,”
In more traditional testing scenarios people can train themselves to behave in ways that are designed to pass the test, rather than to react in a natural way that has been learned and enforced through training. But in virtual reality people tend to forget that they’re in a training scenario. They switch off from the test, and behave in a more instinctual manner. It helps us to figure out where people will be best deployed within teams” (Wareable).
I think Johnson is right when she says VR training allows for more realistic behavior. You can Google videos of consumers testing VR games. Players find themselves in games where they are shot at or chased by someone. The users (usually) cower to the floor or run around the room which can make for amusing viewing. But, these videos give an accurate representation of what Johnson is talking about. With VR goggles on, everything seems real. I imagine in the military “games,” the situations are much more intense. This would make it harder to behave in ways that the trainees think will giving them a passing grade.
“Yes, this is all interesting, but how does VR technology apply to saving lives exactly,” you ask? Well first, VR simulations (like we have already discussed) help trainees learn how to stay alive on the battlefield. But, VR technology is going even further. There are researchers directing this type of training to military medics. Professor Robert Stone, the director of the Human Interface Technologies (HIT) Department, is one of those researchers.
Stone and his team have created a virtual Chinook military helicopter simulation. They are using it to assist training the British Army’s Medical Response Team (MERT). VR and an inflatable tunnel help this simulation come alive. This “helicopter” comes with a life-like prosthetic body and various guns and weapon packs. It even has turbulence and machine gun fire going off in the background. They built the tube to be enclosed in order to create a sense of confinement for the trainee. It’s up to the VR to do the rest.
“Enabling those virtual platforms to be deployed in a variety of environments and scenarios is one of the major goals of the research;[also] addressing the different kinds of injuries and casualties the trainees might one day be confronted with,” Stone told Sputnik. Stone admits that this technology is still very new. And that virtual realities have a while to go before they can accurately depict what soldiers (specifically medics) are exposed to on the battlefield.
He also agrees that VR training is low cost and adaptable. This aspect is important because vehicles (not to mention equipment, medical procedures, and situations), in the military, are ever changing. A lot of their research bases around how much of the physical world vs. the virtual it takes to reproduce the truest “experience” of a battlefield.
It’s easy to see the potential benefits from this research. The closer we can get to training military recruits in simulations that mimic combat in the realest way possible, the better. Because if military medic (or any) recruits can train themselves on how to respond in high-stress situations before they happen, the more lives they will be able to save. And the more lives they are able to save means more families will have their loved ones come home to them.
VR training could prove to be an extremely effective method of teaching soldiers how to better behave in combat. And if that’s the case, it could ease some of the stress when soldiers have to leave their families.
So, can VR training really help save lives?
Since this method of training is still very new it is hard to answer that with certainty. But any research which focuses on teaching soldiers how to stay alive is good research in my book. And that’s exactly what VR training is attempting to do. Even more so, narrowing the same VR training on military medics could go on to help save the soldiers who weren’t as lucky to come out unscathed.
Ultimately, I think the answer to this question, is yes. The idea behind VR training, as I have mentioned, is to teach our soldiers and medics to deal with high stress situations before they happen. So that they can then respond in an appropriate way, which, saves lives. I think this is just the beginning for VR training in the military. This type of training has, what seems to be, a bright future of possibility in preparing our soldiers for war. And consequently, has an even brighter future of saving our loved one’s lives.
*Written by: Sydnee Yates from PDF Supply