The system is called Pointman, and is currently in development at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. The system was created in response to a common problem with vehicle and flight simulators--namely that these self-contained systems work by having trainees sitting in one place, and mainly use their hands to control the system.
While this practice does help soldiers train for the realities of battle, the transfer from simulation to reality could be smoother. This is where Pointman comes in.
The system is still based on a classic desktop trainer setup, but Pointman now includes a computer-mounted tracking device. The device follows three LEDs set on a headpiece, which picks up movements like head tilt and the leaning of the body, and matches these movements to the onscreen avatar.
Additionally, the system includes pedals on the floor mimicking helicopter training sims to allow the avatar to walk in response to the foot-motions of the user. The weapon is directed by a gamepad, as the company pointed out that many military members have gaming experience, and might learn better this way.
“For us, the missing point was control,” said Jim Templeman, the leader on the project. Templeman added that the important gains Pointman can make to simulation are “cognitive realism,” and the extension of “range and precision of actions.”
David Dunfee, a group combat element expert in the Marine Corps’ training and education subdivision, discussed the problems associated with matching simulation to reality, saying despite all the gains Pointman has made, “we still don’t know what the true learning transference is going to be.”
Pointman comes on the heels of 14 years of research, and despite an initial demonstration in 2009, the system only recently found a home with Bohemia Interactive’s Virtual Battlespace 2.
“VBS2 is a very complicated, very rich environment. In order to have a complete interface, it turned out to be a lot of work,” explained Templeman.
Dunfee elaborated on some of the problems with Pointman, saying, “The system was crashing when you had more than four to six people on the system. That’s a problem if we can’t have 13 guys, or up to a platoon, with 42 guys, in the simulation at the same time.”
Because the system is still in development, both Templeman and Dunfee have confirmed that these issues are set to be solved before Pointman is used in any official service.
As for the implications of the Pointman system, Dunfee said, “We don’t know where we’re going next. So what cultural environments do you build? We have a number of differen’t problems that are very, very difficult and diverse, such as the cultural interaction modules or the terrain modules. At the end of the day, what does the squad need that’s going to gain efficiencies utilizing simulations?”
Pointman aims to answer this question.