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Virtual Environment (VE) technologies are maturing at a rapid rate. They are being hyped extensively in the entertainment world, are providing innovative training techniques for medical diagnosis and surgical procedures, and can now afford training opportunities for the submarine community that have not been available in the past. This article describes an Advanced Technology Demonstration project called Virtual Environment for Submarine Ship Handling and Piloting Training (VESUB), which is the first attempt to bring the VE out of the laboratory and make it available for real-world Navy training.

Land-based simulator facilities currently exist for training submarine navigation and ship handling teams. These systems do not, however, provide harbor and channel ship handling training of the officer of the deck (000). OOD training, under a variety of geographical and environmental conditions, is primarily obtained from on-the-job experience which is extremely limited due to the amount of steaming time available for entering and exiting harbors. Therefore, an alternative, simulation-based training capability is needed.
The goal of the VESUB project is to develop, demonstrate, and evaluate the training potential of a stand-alone virtual reality-based system for OOD training and also to integrate this system with existing Submarine Piloting and Navigation (SP AN) training simulators. A head mounted display (HMO) will be used to provide the trainee with a simulated 360 degree visual environment containing all of the required cues associated with harbor and channel navigation as well as varying geographical and environmental conditions. Voice recognition and syntheses will be used to provide communications training. Once the stand-alone version has been demonstrated and evaluated, it will be interfaced with a SPAN trainer and its team training effectiveness will be evaluated.

The above figure is an artist’s representation of the VESUB system. On the right side of the figure, an instructor is shown seated in front of three screens at the Instructor/Operator Station (IOS). Two of the IOS screens are used to create, modify and control training scenarios. The third screen is used to monitor the performance of the trainee, who is shown standing in the bridge mock-up. The trainee is wearing the HMO and communicating with the simulation via a hand-held microphone. The inset shows what the trainee sees through the HMD. The visual scene will include a representation of the bridge area (for either the 6881 or the 726 classes), including the bridge suitcase and the compass repeater. The trainee will also be able to see simplified charts and a course card when he looks down and to the right or left. In the distance, the visual scene will display buoys, navigation aids, traffic, and any other visual cues that the trainee requires for the ship handling task. When the trainee turns his head, a head tracker mounted above the mock-up will sense the movement and the computer will change the visual scene appropriately. Thus, the trainee will be able to tum to the stern and observe the rudder move in response to a helm order.

The VESUB training system will provide simulation-based training for COD ship handling skills that, currently, are only taught on-the-job. Such training has the potential to reduce ship handling errors and save lives and property by allowing trainees to experience complex ship handling scenarios (e.g., adverse weather conditions, uncooperative traffic, equipment failures) in the simulation rather than encountering them for the first time in the real world. Furthermore, VESUB will afford the opportunity for many more trainees to experience ship handling scenarios than is now possible due to the limited number of times submarines enter and leave port. This is especially critical for the ballistic missile submarines, which are deployed for long periods of time.

By integrating the VESUB training system with SPAN systems, OODs will be able to experience the team training environment which will enhance the performance of the entire submarine piloting and navigation team. In addition, the integrated VESUB system will reduce the workload of the SPAN instructors who must currently play the role of the COD in the existing training systems.

During FY95 and FY96, over 25 submarine subject matter experts experienced an exploratory version of the VESUB system that was developed under the Virtual Environment Training Technology program. This system allowed these experts to articulate additional requirements for the VESUB system. Some of these included: more accurate submarine models for both fast attack and ballistic missile submarines; the effects of currents on the submarine models; environmental effects (e.g., fog, rain, wind); dynamic traffic; complete and accurate vocabulary for the voice recognition system; and many others. During FY97, with the help of additional submarine subject matter experts, formative evaluations of the VESUB system will be conducted to ensure the inclusion and accuracy of as many environmental and modeling features as the technology will support. The formative evaluations will also focus on the incorporation of instructional features in the VESUB system. These include methods for measuring trainee performance and providing feedback, the design of instructional scenarios, and the usability of the VESUB IOS. The
results of the formative evaluations will provide guidance so the system development contractor (Advanced Marine Enterprises) can enhance the system before it is taken to Navy schools for training effectiveness evaluations in FY98.

An Implementation Planning Group (IPG), consisting of active duty submarine personnel from schools, squadrons, groups, and systems commands, as well as government researchers, has been established to provide guidance during the formative and training effectiveness evaluations. The IPG will also provide recommendations for incorporation of these VE technologies into Navy training. The results of the training effectiveness evaluations will be documented in a final technical report and will also be used to produce a specification for procurement of operational systems. Current plans call for incorporation of VE technologies in the next generation SPAN trainers to be procured begining in FY99. With the inclusion of VE technologies, the new SPAN trainers will afford complete ship handling training capabilities for the OOD, as well as the rest of the piloting and navigation team.

VESUB will be one of the first examples of a VE training system developed for and evaluated in a real-world context. The results of the VESUB project will provide capabilities that can be used in many other training contexts. Considerable interest has been shown for using VE technologies for surface ship handling training to avoid the high costs of current training systems and to training tasks that are not supported in these systems. There is also a high level of interest in placing systems, like VESUB, aboard the vessel to support mission rehearsal. As VE technologies mature and training developers and instructors learn more of its capabilities, it is likely that virtual environments will become a major asset for training in the 21st century.

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