x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

War simulator feels real, frustrating

A virtual-reality setup allows soldiers to train in lifelike scenarios without shedding a drop of blood.

Joel Riginay, left, Michael Langford, and TJ Campbell use a Virtual Simulator developed by Raytheon during the IDEX conference in Abu Dhabi.
Joel Riginay, left, Michael Langford, and TJ Campbell use a Virtual Simulator developed by Raytheon during the IDEX conference in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // I picked up the M-249 Saw machine gun, heavy and deadly looking.

Pointing it out of the window of a dingy building, I unleashed a hail of bullets, aiming for whoever was hiding behind the the door of the apartment building across the street.

Then I stopped. The enemy stepped out and shot me. With precision. All I could see was red. They had taken me out for the third time - "virtually" speaking, that is.

I was inside the dream world of every youngster who grew up playing video games, except this was far more serious: a virtual training simulator (Virtsim) designed to prepare soldiers and special forces for dangerous field operations without shedding a drop of their blood.

The Virtsim, a joint venture between the American defence giant Raytheon and Motion Reality, whose technology was licensed for Hollywood films including Lord of the Rings and Avatar, was a popular draw at Idex.

When I arrived at the M-249 stand I put on a set of straps that turned out to be reflective markers allowing the Virtsim to create computer-generated avatar of myself and my fellow soldiers.

"What that lets them do is replicate training environments as disparate as an Afghan village to an Iraqi street to something very sensitive, say the White House, where you don't necessarily want to see soldiers training," said Kevin Massengill, Raytheon's vice president for the Middle East and North Africa.

I put on the virtual reality helmet, grabbed the Saw, which is as heavy as the real item, and was transported into a world that resembled Counter-Strike, a first-person shooter video game.

I began walking through dark, winding hallways, chatting up my fellow soldiers in fatigues. Passersby stopped to take photographs of the oddly dressed men patrolling a rectangular area on the floor of the exhibition hall, safely playing a game that mirrors a deadly reality.

The hallways and rooms in the virtual world were replete with gun-toting bad guys and unarmed civilians. I resisted the urge to walk through virtual walls.

After shooting our way through the course, we fought against an opposing team, which was when I proceeded to die repeatedly.

Thankfully, the bullets didn't hurt.

 

kshaheen@thenational.ae