Army turns to Hollywood for realism

Institute for Creative Technologies

The Army's partnership with Hollywood entered a new phase as it held the

grand opening of a center that will produce research for more realistic

simulators.

The Army celebrated the opening of the Institute for Creative Technologies

on Friday. In August 1999, the Army awarded a five-year, $45 million contract

to the University of Southern California to build the institute.

Friday's debut featured celebrities Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man,

and actors Kate Mulgrew of the "Star Trek: Voyager" TV series and Elliott

Gould, who starred in the movie "MASH."

Although the Army's simulators might never be as good as the fictional holodecks

on Star Trek, future simulators will be much more realistic than today's

systems, Army officials said.

"This is about injecting more realism in Army training because it is an

old and proven Army axiom that "realistic training saves lives,'" Army Secretary

Louis Caldera said. "Simulators allow you to safely turn up the heat without

the danger of training injuries or other accidents. Right now, flight simulators

allow pilots to get more experience reacting to threats, firing simulated

weapons and flying [over the terrain] of the Earth than they get with 100

hours of actual flying."

Army leaders have asked USC to seek more partners in the film and video

game industries to help develop simulator technology. Paramount Pictures

and Sony Electronics are among those who have already signed up.

The opening of the institute Friday featured presentations of simulation

concepts, including the Mission Rehearsal Exercise System, which is being

developed to allow soldiers to experience the sights, sounds and circumstances

of actual deployments.

The system immerses soldiers in an intense 3-D audio and graphic environment

in which they are required to make quick decisions, according to William

Swartout, technical director for the new research center.

Swartout added that getting realistic simulator software to the field more

quickly is a top priority.

"One of the big issues we are trying to address is that it often takes six

months to develop software for a crisis which is usually over with by the

time the program's ready," Swartout said. "We want to build up a large library

of different environments from around the world into which we can import

characters from other scenarios."

At some point, soldiers might be able to train while in flight to a deployment,

learning about the terrain, culture and mission prior to hitting the ground,

he said.

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