More than Games Part 3: Takeaways from Unite11
To wrap up my summary of Unite 11, I thought we could talk about a couple of projects that are being funded through the US military. The Department of Defense tries to stay up to date on technology, and are always on the look out for safer, more cost-effective ways to train their troops. Interactive 3D seems to be a good solution, and I can see a lot of potential in the projects that were being shown at Unite.
Unity 3D in the Military
C2 (C Squared) Tech (c2ti.com) was showing off a suite of apps designed to better prepare soldiers to use equipment like the Patriot Missile system. The Patriot missile system is a large truck, the size of a semi tractor-trailer, with a missile launcher mounted on the trailer. It’s designed to allow the driver to set up and fire the missile, but of course there are a lot of steps involved in making that happen.
Interactive 3D simulations allow low-risk, low-cost training and education, helping the soldiers memorize the tasks required to set up the missile platform. They can run through the procedure as many times as they need to, without running the risks involved with working with real equipment.
The interface is very similar to a video game, and since most soldiers have played video games, they tend to get the hang of it pretty quickly.
The Patriot Missile system seems to be a popular test-bed for new technologies, because the next presenter, Heartwood (hwd3d.com) also showed off a product that featured that platform. Unlike the C2 project, however, this isn’t a training tool that’s trying to replace hands-on training. Heartwood’s tool is more of an equipment browser and configuration tool. They showed off how someone can use their tablet (iPad for example) to zoom in and out to see details of the equipment, open doors, etc.
They showed how interactive 3D can be used to better understand complex systems like those used in military equipment. They showed how the parts of a troop transport go together, by allowing the user to place the parts on themselves. The user’s also able to focus in on specific parts, to learn about them and how to repair or replace them, without taking the parts out of the vehicle. They make the rest of the vehicle transparent, revealing the part in question, and then the user can spin around and see it from any view, as well as configure it right there on the screen.
These demos really clarify the advantages that 3D interaction has over more traditional training media, like illustrations and lectures. Not only are the users learning the parts of the equipment and the tasks needed to service them, they’re constantly practicing the techniques, making mistakes and correcting them, at their own pace and in their own way. It’s almost as good as hands-on training, but at much lower cost and potential for injury.
Gesture control for computers is a technology that’s been around for years, but it’s only recently that it’s come into its own as a legitimate replacement for mouse, touch, or pen. Part of this success is due to the useful and affordable Microsoft Kinect system, which has not only puts gesture input within financial reach of the general population — it’s legitimized the idea of controlling a game or other interface with the hands and body, and trained thousands of people in using gesture control as they play.
Unity 3D integrates well with gesture controls, so we’re seeing several projects that are making use of Kinect and similar systems. For example, Heartwood demonstrated a system for training air-traffic ground controllers, the people who direct jets and planes on the ground as they arrive and depart the terminal. The controllers use their lighted wands to communicate with pilots, directing them and alerting them of any problems, so it’s important to practice those gestures over and over again so they’re easy to remember in stressful situations. The gesture-based training system is a perfect solution for that.
On a lighter note, the design studio Candystations (www.candystations.com) has used Unity and Kinect to create custom effects for music videos and concerts. They scan the singers with the Kinect system, interpret the results with custom software, and output the data into real-time 3D space using Unity. The results are spooky and beautiful.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how the techniques used in projects like these will affect future arts and training. I’m excited to be working in such a healthy, active, and creative community like that surrounding Unity.