In the Axon booth at the 2019 International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) show, attendees could watch a virtual reality scenario involving officers and an autistic subject. The training was designed to give officers more empathy with people on the autism spectrum. This was the first of Axon’s virtual reality products, but even two years ago, the company promised that more would be on the way.
Axon has since expanded its library of VR empathy scenarios. And last month the company announced that it was taking the next step with its VR training systems. That next step is immersive virtual reality simulation.
The new Axon Virtual Reality Simulation Training system (VR Simulator) is a true interactive law enforcement simulator system that can be used for firearms range practice, TASER instruction, and decision-making training. In some scenarios officers interact with 3D computer graphic subjects to de-escalate situations or, when necessary, use force, including deadly force, to effect an arrest and/or protect themselves and others.
One of the keys to developing the new VR simulator was Axon’s relationship with HTC. The system features the HTC Vive Focus 3 headset, an all-in-one unit that allows officers to move naturally in the training area because it requires no extraneous hardware. Luke Larson, president of Axon, says, in addition to the headsets, HTC’s hand motion and sensor motion tracking technology was essential for visual accuracy and dexterity in the virtual environment.
The weapons used in the Axon’s VR Simulator are also equipped with HTC’s technology. Larson says the training (non-firing) Glock and the TASER (a real TASER 7) feel natural to the officers because the sensors fit into the TASER cartridge position and inside the Glock. In some VR systems the sensors are much more obtrusive.
Larson says the 3D rendering of the weapons in the VR Simulator is extremely accurate. “When you present the weapon, you are seeing something that is very close to what the real thing looks like. When you use the Glock, you see a Glock in virtual reality. When you use the TASER, you see a TASER energy device in virtual reality,” he says.
Because it can be operated in a10 x 10-foot room, Axon’s VR Simulator was designed for use by just about any law enforcement agency. It is a wireless system so the student can move dynamically through the scenario, and it does not require a special room or special connectivity.
Optimally, training with the system should be conducted with an instructor, although agencies can allow officers to run the scenarios by themselves. Using a tablet, the instructor can see what the student is seeing and alter the scenario. Commands in the user interface allow the instructor to change environmental factors like weather and aspects of the characters in the scenario, including race and gender. The software also provides the instructor with an after-action report in the Axon Academy.
Larson says one of the benefits of the VR Simulator is that it offers affordable and quick training. Each scenario lasts from five to 15 minutes, depending on a number of variables. “In the military we trained 90% of the time and were deployed 10% of the time. Law enforcement is the opposite, they are out on patrol 365 days a year. The VR Simulator lets them do quick training.”
Axon offers three firearms range modules for the VR Simulator: basic, intermediate, and advanced. The VR sensors in the non-firing Glock give the officer a realistic sight picture when he or she draws and presents the weapon, according to Larson. In the more advanced firearms scenarios, officers have to make shoot-don’t shoot decision under stress. “People are coming up to you and they can be very aggressive. It will elevate your heart rate,” Larson says.
During a webinar announcing the launch of the VR Simulator, Axon said the system will launch with five scenarios: TASER training, domestic dispute, firing range, noise complaint, and elder abuse. In addition the system incorporates the company’s VR empathy training modules as Community Engagement VR Training. The Community Engagement modules include dealing with suicidal subjects, schizophrenic subjects, autistic subjects, people with Alzheimer’s disease, and people who are hard of hearing. Axon says it will soon add new Community Engagement modules that offer instruction in dealing with officer suicide, substance abuse, protests, non-English speakers, and minority youth.
Larson says Axon is considering more than 100 new scenarios for the VR Simulator. The company is working with the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA). “They are offering feedback and guidance, and they will be certifying our tactical scenarios,” Larson says. In addition to NTOA, Axon is working with an advisory board of trainers and police executives. “We are going to create phenomenal, best-in-class training by world class subject matter experts and law enforcement trainers,” he says.
Axon plans to turn out scenarios for the VR Simulator very quickly. Larson says the company is expecting to release Community Engagement and interactive training scenarios at a clip of one or two per month. “That rate could increase as we build our team,” he adds.
Future additions to the VR Simulator are already being developed. More tools such as OC spray and a baton will soon be available. And as the technology improves, multiple officers will be able to work scenarios simultaneously. Robert Murphy, Axon’s senior director of virtual reality, says officers working the same scenario “will not have to be in the same physical space.”
Axon Virtual Reality Simulator Training is now being beta tested at a number of agencies. Larson says it is expected to launch in the third quarter of this year and the company is already taking orders. Buyers receive one headset for every 25 users, one sensor pack for their own TASER 7 energy weapons, a non-firing training Glock (other pistol makes are available) with built-in sensors, scenarios, and a tablet for use by the instructor. Contact Axon for pricing.