Late last month, Axon announced the availability of its Virtual Reality (VR) Simulator Training solution, which includes Axon Academy's library of e-learning content and training materials.
The new product—essentially a package of hardware that will supplement the company's already existing suite of solutions for online training—will allow trainers and trainees to collaborate in a virtual setting, enabling both parties to be geographically located in totally different places.
According to Axon, the new product "can be easily deployed in any environment and allows officers to train as often as they like from anywhere, even remotely." Furthermore—and probably more importantly—the new offering from Axon integrates some new levels of "realism" into virtual reality.
Virtual Reality, Act 1, Scene 5
If the story of virtual reality in law enforcement training were told in the form of a three act play, the rollout of Axon's new offering might qualify as a good place to end Act I.
For those who are unfamiliar with Aristotle's dramatic theory, this would be the point at which the setting, main characters, and plot background have been established, and the "action" begins. For example, in Hamlet, this is where the eponymous main character learns that dear old dad was murdered by Claudius and sets off on his mission to avenge his fallen father.
In VR, this is where special training cartridges in an Axon ECD device are built/baked directly into the virtual world. This is where the addition of a SIRT pistol—a popular dry-fire training gun closely replicating an actual duty weapon—enables a type of "range" training that interacts directly with the VR software and the trainer running the scenario.
Officers in the Axon VR training environment utilize their actual TASER weapon loaded with cartridges designed to specifically speak with the VR platform, thus enabling much more realistic training. For example, most training with a TASER device involves deploying the weapon into a stuffed target on a stick that offers as much realism as a scarecrow. In the new Axon VR trainer, subjects in the virtual space can be moving forward, backward, and laterally at varying speeds according to the trainer's input.
In addition, they can be wearing clothing that might prevent a good spread. And in the event of a failure to get a good ECD response, trainees can then transition to the SIRT pistol in their duty holster. In this case, the magazine in the well of the SIRT is not just there to enable sear reset, it also transmits trigger pulls and sight alignment to the trainer's tablet computer, so accuracy and decision making can be recorded and reviewed.
Agencies will, of course, have discretion as to how long and for what purpose any data recorded during training is retained.
The company says that the aim is to "increase the frequency in which officers conduct skills and de-escalation training through immersive, real-life scenarios that feel real, both physically and mentally, and can be easily completed in 10 to 20 minutes before or after a shift."
The emphasis on portability is plainly evident when one "unboxes" the new offering, which is self-contained in a typically sized duffle bag weighing just over 10 pounds. Inside, police trainers will find:
- HTC Focus 3 VR Headset
- VR Controller Kit (Bundle)
- Samsung S7+ Tablet
- Samsung S7+ Tablet Case
- HTC Focus 3 Wrist Tracker (x2)
- VR-Enabled replica firearm Controller
- TASER7 VR Cartridge Standoff (x2)
- TASER7 VR Cartridge Close Quarter (x2)
Master Corporal Michel Eckerd of the New Castle County (DE) Division of Police says, "The training venues that we utilize are more often not of your typical classroom setting."
Eckerd says that in the past, the agency has utilized warehouses, abandoned apartment buildings, and even Conex containers to conduct training.
"This product has opened the door for more impromptu 'hip pocket' training where officers can come to headquarters or other substations and conduct on-demand training sessions 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he says.
Eckerd explains that at times, officers look forward to getting away from the classroom setting and instead training in the virtual environment.
"A growing number of officers are from generations that are more amenable to computers and interactive training," Eckerd says. "Combining this with the technology allows the officers to train more efficiently and when it is most opportune."
Axon has for years said that its mission is two-fold: to protect life, and to protect truth.
Our collective memory of high school literature class tells us that in the end, Hamlet gets his vengeance on Claudius. But Hamlet himself also dies—everyone eventually does, after all—and in his dying breath beseeches his friend Horatio to speak of him and explain the truth to the new king.
As the opening curtain on VR's Second Act rises and the actors take the stage, we sit in anticipation of what will unfold before us. There undoubtedly will be conflict, controversy, and change—that's the nature of life's rich pageant.
There will also be a new reality.