Technological advancements allow companies to continually refine the quality of use-of-force simulators, but vendors have also been paying attention to the budget problems of public safety agencies that buy them. Here's a review of the latest developments in the technology and marketing of these systems.
Cubic is a company more familiar to military trainers than to law enforcement. Cubic has been a military contractor for more than 50 years. One of its leading products is the MILES (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) gear the U.S. military has been using since 1980.
MILES has two basic components: a laser emitter mounted on the soldier's weapon, and a set of laser-sensitive sensors usually fixed to the troop's web gear. When the sensors register a hit from one of the laser emitters, an alarm on the web gear tells the "victim" he has been shot and is out of the fight. The equipment integrates easily into real combat gear and is widely used for small unit tactical exercises.
The combat settings U.S. troops have experienced in recent years are much more like the typical American policing environment than a traditional battlefield. Warfighters have found themselves moving down city streets and entering homes and businesses, both for cover and to take the fight to the enemy. Cubic has produced many training facilities for this type of operation, which the military community calls MOUT: Military Operations on Urban Terrain.
These facilities often consist of one or more structures that are pre-wired for both combat effects and for monitoring of the trainees. A "tactical village" may have several buildings and streets, all with cameras to record the actions of the people undergoing the exercise. A central control room controls the cameras and recorders, as well as smoke generators, light switches, exhaust fans, and access to the sound effects that can be introduced into any part of the facility. Sensors throughout the village track the silver dollar-size RFID tags on each trainee's uniform, providing a "God's-eye view" of the location and movement of each operator throughout the exercise. Each moving dot is identified with the trainee's name or ID
Brooks Davis, who briefed me on Cubic's products, said that this technology permits withdrawing the instructor from the room. "When trainees [in traditional, instructor-led scenarios] were going through an exercise, they would be told,' By the way, that guy wearing the red shirt is not part of the scenario.' When the trainee entered a room and saw a red shirt, he knew to put on his game face, because something was about to happen." When there's no telltale red-shirted monitor around to cue the trainee, each evolution of the scenario generates a more realistic response.
During an exercise with a Florida agency using a Cubic facility, the instructor saw that the trainees were getting bogged down in a single room, and wanted to move them further into the building. He was able to make a scream come from a speaker in a room at the back of the building, which got the operators moving again. The scream wasn't part of the scripted scenario. During the post-exercise debrief, all of the trainees remembered that scream clearly, and noted they were never able to locate the person who screamed. This kind of flexibility wouldn't be possible with a traditional "shoot house" setup.
Another adaptation of the MILES platform puts the sensors on the engines of watercraft used in marine-based exercises. A common tactic in waterborne interdiction operations is to shoot out the engines of boats that refuse to yield when ordered to do so. While it's possible to have one of the role players on board the boat watch for disabling shots and advise the operator to throttle back if he perceives a hit, it's far more realistic to have the hit come from a sensor that's actually connected with a laser on the officer's weapon.
This platform is expected to come under heavy use as agencies in the Tampa Bay area prepare for the Republican National Convention in 2012. In addition to the usual security concerns that come with such an event, the protectors have to contend with several miles of waterfront to defend from assault.[PAGEBREAK]
IES Interactive Training
Right at the top of our conversation, Jason Lamons with IES Interactive Training stressed the value of his company's products. "Everyone is in a bad place financially because of decreased tax revenue. We've made sure we have products at the right price point with features aligned with what our customers want to achieve in training."
IES is seeing a dramatic shift toward computer-generated graphics (CGI) in scenario development. The company has put a lot of effort into developing CGI-based marksmanship systems that are user-configurable according to need.
Using one of the MILO variants of the IES system, an instructor can create nearly any firearms range he can conceive in his head. Operating the range is done from a touchscreen interface that controls target type, distance, pop-ups, and other actions. Because of the cost of ammunition and time to travel to a physical range, many IES customers are using their MILO systems for practice, and moving to the live fire range only for qualification.
When Apple introduced the iPad last year, the world at last understood what a "tablet computer" was. MILO systems can be run from an iPad, which is supplied by IES on request. However, IES usually recommends a Windows-based tablet to save costs and keep everything running under a single operating system. A configuration called "Quickset" eliminates the need to run cables and connect components. The instructor rolls in the system, plugs in power, and starts training.
Customer feedback on scenarios has placed more emphasis on close-quarter combat, including room-clearing and breaching exercises. The MILO systems will operate multiple screens in multiple rooms if desired, with everything controlled from a single instructor console.
The same tools used to design virtual ranges are also used to develop virtual shoot houses with pop-up or animated character targets. Some simulator manufacturers use weapon-mounted joysticks to show movement through a scenario, but IES has focused on controlling movement through pre-scripted actions or touchscreen input from the instructor.
CGI has come a long way, but it still can't beat video for realism. "Graphics can't replicate the subtle cues that police need to make a judgment call," Lamons says. "With video, you can see the tightening neck muscles or a shift in stance that tells him he is about to be
Because video is still the best teaching medium, IES provides each customer with the best possible tools to create their own video scenarios. Each system ships with an HD camera and a wizard-based editing suite operated from the system console. In 20 to 30 minutes, a trainer can shoot the video required for a scenario and edit it on the same computer used to run the MILO system. The software "wizard" guides the trainer through the creation of the scenario, helping to designate branching points and target zones and producing a custom, high-quality product.
Firearms training is as much about technique as use-of-force decision-making. IES provides an exceptional level of instructor feedback tools for student coaching. A trigger monitor on each of the firearms used with the simulator records when the shooter takes up the trigger slack, reaches the break point, and engages the trigger reset. If the shooter is jerking or slapping the trigger, the monitor will reveal it.
In addition, the shooter's line of sight is recorded throughout the scenario to indicate if the front sight was dropped just prior to firing, a common error. A heart rate monitor records the shooter's stress level throughout the problem. One option unique to IES is a wireless baton that operates similarly to the Wii controllers on home gaming systems.
All of these indicators are recorded for playback during the instructor's debrief, to be played with the scenario. As an additional coaching tool, the debrief itself can be recorded and saved on a USB flash drive so that the shooter can review it as many times as desired.[PAGEBREAK]
Where other vendors emphasize high-end components and dedicated simulated weapons for use with their simulators, Ti Training focuses on the production quality of its scenarios. "We utilize state-of-the-art, high-res, high-speed cameras to capture and create impactful training scenarios, says Joe Mason from Ti Training. "The same camera system is being used on major Hollywood films to capture amazingly detailed images for the big screen. We use only professional stunt-performers, pyrotechnic engineers, and ultra-realistic weapons."
Scenarios are filmed using green screen technology, which allows the producer to insert any backdrop-even one that might be impossible to film in place-behind the actors. All scenarios are reviewed by a panel of law enforcement trainers to ensure that the training objectives are met, and that the student can fight through the situation and win.
Ti Training has two simulator packages, intended for agencies of 20 to 50 officers and for those with 50-plus officers. The lower-end package was developed in cooperation with the Rural Law Enforcement Technology Center (RULETC). This NIJ-sponsored agency assists small departments in acquiring technology that is usually reserved for larger, well-funded outfits. That system sells for $19,950. The more advanced system is priced at $42,000, which is less expensive than most other use-of-force simulator packages. Both systems are intended to be portable and ship in heavy-duty storm cases.
Economy is achieved by supplying drop-in laser emitters for use in the agency's weapons, although dedicated training firearms are available. The lower-end system also omits the editing software to produce homegrown scenarios. Mason said this wasn't a problem for most agencies, as it is far more common for customers to contract back to Ti Training for the development of a custom scenario than for the customer to produce their own.
Another hallmark of Ti Training's scenarios is the use of 3-D technology for 50 to 60 of the scenarios they have produced in the last year. There are several ways of producing 3-D movies. The simplest, called anaglyph, requires the viewer to wear glasses with different colored lenses, usually red and blue. Polarized glasses, like those used in most theater 3-D productions, don't work well if the wearer turns his head away from the screen. The third method, used in most 3-D home theater setups, uses powered shutter glasses that obscure the view from alternate lenses 60 to 120 times each second. This method isn't affected by viewing angle, and is the one Ti Training uses. Each system ships with two pairs of shutter glasses. The 3-D scenarios can be run in 2-D, if desired.
Tim Dees writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement Websites who serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association He can be reached at [email protected]
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