The military's newest digital training system is gonna open a can of whoop-ass on new recruits. And maybe a sonic blaster, too.
The use of gaming technology, from first-person shooters to virtual worlds, is quickly becoming the military's mode of choice for training the troops of this generation. But those digital proving grounds come with one major disadvantage: They just don't hurt enough. That could be about to change, according to a new request for proposals issued by the Army last week, which calls for technology to "create an impulse force that simulates the feel of debris… or bullet strikes."
The request, called "Haptic Feedback for a Virtual Explosion," certainly sounds like fodder for a new videogame blockbuster. At least until you find your virtual self on a mysterious, dark road, abandoned buildings to both sides, the wind whipping your hair and - KABOOM! - owwwwwwww, getting shot hurts! That's kinda the idea: Make training as realistic as possible, by giving soldiers a taste of exactly what they should be bracing for in combat. Bombs and bullets, unfortunately, need to be included.
Already, the military has made a major foray into virtual worlds. They've formally adapted more than 23 video games as training programs, announced plans to develop immersive "training worlds" and have even paid for a helmet that'd allow trainees to navigate a 360-degree environment. And digital environs are useful beyond combat training: "First-person thinkers" would train future generals, and virtually revisiting war can sometimes help troops recover from PTSD.
Adding physical impact would be one of the final frontiers.
The military has already toyed with this, by using "tactile devices, air jets, fans and air cannons." But they've yet to come close to the intensity - both in speed and impact - of actual weaponry. Already, they've got a few ideas on how to do it, including (oh my god) "directed ultrasound" and "focused microwaves." But fear not, courageous trainee: The proposal insists that "the safety of the system" is of utmost importance. Although you may want to prepare for a bone bruise or two, because trainees will "not wear any special equipment."
The Army hopes that the technology paves the way for their next, even more out-there, aspiration: Fake fights with fake humans that feel real. Indeed, the Army notes that "tactile interaction with three dimensional interactive holograms" is an exciting prospect for eliciting bed-wetting nightmares among the softest, feeblest recruits future iterations of the system.
And let's not forget the civilian applications. Game companies already use haptic feedback - that buzzing in your d-pad - to make their console titles more intense. Small business owners wondering whether or not to throw their millions into realistic hologram terrorists shooting fake (but very painful) bullets should heed the Army's savvy reminder that "theme parks are always looking for an enhanced experience to deliver to their customer…. A more precise method of delivering tactile feedback would [enhance] the guest's experience and the owner's revenue."
Photo: U.S. Air Force