The collaborative R&D effort could potentially allow thousands of soldiers to concurrently participate in virtual training exercises and be further applied to fields as diverse as disaster response and paintball wars.
Intel has partnered with the US Army's Research Laboratory's Human Research and Engineering Directorate, Simulation and Training Technology Center (STTC) to "optimize research in virtual training environments" to make virtual reality training a reality and allow for at least 1,000 concurrent human participants.
The technology was initially tested in the Intel STTC User Scalability Experiment 1 on March 23, 2013 to "prove and demonstrate that more than 100 users may operate in the same space at the same time to achieve a realistic mission." The experiment examines scalability in three interrelated categories: "size of the operational area, number of entities in the environment and the complexity of the environment" and aimed to determine a performance baseline for the following metrics:
- Average simulator frame rates
- Server network bandwidth consumption
- Client network bandwidth consumption
Doug Maxwell, the STTC's Science & Technology Manager, stressed that “properly representing the operational environment for Army training needs will require a massive increase in simulation scalability and flexibility," and that "it is our belief that virtual world technology may be used to achieve the goal of full-spectrum operations during mission rehearsal exercises. This partnership is the first step to show that more than 1,000 users can operate in the same space and at the same time to achieve a realistic mission."
Posting on the Intel Labs Blog, Huaiyu Liu, a research scientist on virtual environments, noted that "realistic virtual presence [is] not too far…" and mused on the potential applications and advantages of the technology:
“Think U.S. Army, or first responder teams dealing with natural disasters. I cannot imagine the consequences if a soldier or a first responder are unable to react and make right decisions when it really counts due to lack of training. So now the question arises in my mind if I can use the existing technologies such as virtual worlds for tactical and procedure training, for fast prototyping of training scenarios, and for large scale mission rehearsals/drills. Unfortunately, the answer I found was that it is not possible because of scalability and realism restrictions.”