In 2010 David Avgikos, president and CEO of the 3D simulator company Digimation, was at a trade show when he started thinking about the need for a new kind of firearms simulator for law enforcement. The idea got put on the back burner as Digimation worked on projects for its defense industry clients, but it was never forgotten. Avgikos returned to his law enforcement simulator project in 2015 and it became the Digimation Arms Trainer (DART) Range system.
The DART Range system is different from any other law enforcement firearms simulator. It's designed specifically to have a very small footprint. It consists of a small integrated control box that contains its computer processor, software, and optics.
Another distinction between the DART Range and most other law enforcement simulators now available is that it uses computer graphics instead of video scenarios. "Computer graphics have come a long way," says Avgikos. "Today, there are some really good advantages to using them instead of video. The computer graphics respond with artificial intelligence and the instructors can easily build in behaviors."
Scenarios can be built in the easy-to-use authoring module DART Creator, and trainers can set up scenarios with multiple types of layouts. In a school shooter scenario, for example, they can build hallways and classrooms and other school facilities. The "bad guys" in these scenarios can be programmed to behave in specific ways.
Digimation had several goals when it developed the DART Range. Avgikos says the system was designed specifically for smaller law enforcement agencies that may not have the space for larger systems. Avgikos says the DART Range system can be used in an average sized room and can be projected on the walls. The company also wanted the system to be affordable for smaller agencies, with a complete system beginning at $7,900.
The DART Range system fills a niche in training that other simulators and exercises like force-on-force training with marking rounds can't, according to Brian Gaynor, a veteran SWAT officer and DART's director of training. Officers can use it by themselves in 15 minutes of time before roll call or before ending their shifts, he says. Also, it reduces the amount of downtime involved in range or on-location training.
"Let's say you've got 30 officers taking part in a Simunitions scenario. They are practicing two-person entries. So what do the other 28 officers do in the meantime? If you have a DART on site, the other officers could be rotating through the scenario on DART, practicing things like moving to cover, rather than twiddling their thumbs," Gaynor says. He adds that DART can also boost the officer training time during live fire sessions. "If only 15 officers can be on the range at the same time, then the others can be working on their shooting using the DART."
The DART Range system can help officers improve their accuracy in a number of ways. In addition to scenario training, the system offers a variety of range drills, including moving targets. And beginning shooters and even experienced shooters who are working on accuracy will find value in the DART Trace module, which shows muzzle movement.
Avgikos says more than 200 agencies are currently using the DART Range system. Many of them have fewer than 25 sworn officers, which was the original market for the simulator. But larger agencies are also using the DART. "They like that they can move the DART to where their officers are stationed rather than sending the officers to the simulator," Avgikos says.