Ontario, Canada company IFTech calls it ‘the world’s first fully immersive gaming suit’. Founder and CEO Brodie Stanfield talked with Ian Mccrudden, Chief Operating Officer of the European Training and Simulation Association, about their ARAIG technology.
Excerpted by permission of ETSA
Brodie Stanfield’s focus at IFTech (Inventing Future Technology - Durham, Ontario, Canada) has been the development and creation of IFTech’s multisensory technology, ARAIG: As Real As It Gets, bringing the product from ideation to manufacture and commercial readiness.
ETSA: You’ve identified a critical element that has been missing in much of military training to date. Tell us about the ‘Z’ factor.
Brodie: To assist military personnel in better preparing for their duties, new training products, training models and devices have come onto the market. One major market space is extended reality training (virtual reality, augmented reality, synthetic reality, simulations, etc.). This training is well known for reducing costs and enhancing the scope of training within the training infrastructure. Although virtual training reduces costs, provides flexibility and allows more participants, there is a problem that relates directly to three areas: the stress response, critical decision making, and situational awareness. This problem is the sensory gap.
The sensory gap is the gap between what is seen and heard and what is felt. Virtual training experiences and many live simulations lack sensory context and consequence. They fail to connect all the experiences to the body. Trainees don’t feel like it’s real and therefore their reactions are different than if they were in a real-world event.
This gap in realistic sensory training limits outcomes for building resiliency, advanced situational awareness and critical decision making for our military personnel and ultimately place them at risk during real-life operations.
Although there are products that can be deemed penalty systems, where you get zapped for doing the wrong thing, they only provide one sensory stimulus and cannot duplicate the reality of the entire environment for the user.
Training is about people. More importantly it is about their performance or ability to respond appropriately at the precise time, in the right place, with the right tools.
Notwithstanding overall team performance, strategic goals are achieved through the success of task-level operations by individuals, single players, making decisions on the ground or in the air. Task-related outcomes are affected by how well the individual’s physiology responds physically, mentally and emotionally to the external and internal stressors impacting them during the performance of their task(s). This task could be digging a ditch, relaying communications, operating equipment, or engaging the enemy. This stress can cause auditory exclusion, perceptual narrowing, time distortion, awareness lapse, memory loss, loss of fine motor skills, sense of being overwhelmed, confusion, etc.
Commanders can give orders, but when, how and if they are carried out well is determined by those in stressful situations who are possibly facing death. This type of stress is the ‘Z’ factor. And if the Z factor cannot be trained for, then task objectives are at risk and can be labelled with greater unpredictability values as stress increases. This stress therefore needs to be applied and mitigated through learning. All value-added virtual and live simulation training must consider what has been missed in the past and train their personnel to mitigate the stress affect.
To unlock the talent of every individual we must provide them with the tools necessary to mitigate this stress in order to achieve optimal performance. The greater the realism imparted to trainees during their participation in the modelling, simulation or training solution, the greater the effect on psychomotor skills. It is the realism that creates the stress, and it is therefore important to create the most realistic environments to promote resilience and to enable repeatable scenarios to allow trainees to learn techniques for various stressors.
ETSA: Can you provide a brief overview of the scope of your products to support Modelling, Simulation & Training solutions?
Brodie: Through tactile and auditory stimuli, ARAIG improves learning outcomes, specifically optimal performance, and resiliency in high-risk environments. When real-world stressors are applied, it allows trainees to mitigate this stress to strengthen critical decision making on the battlefield and reduce formation of bad habits.
Whether your solution is in a vehicle, in the air, in water, or on the ground, through the provision of multisensory stimulation we create a new level of reality for the operator, allowing the wearer to feel and hear what is happening to them in real time within their simulated or extended-reality training environment.
Our technology takes existing training environments, both traditional and simulated, and elevates them to a more realistic ‘feel’ for the operator. Adding the senses each of us has, we can now link our eyes and ears with our bodies. In doing so, IFTech can make virtual and live simulation training environments much more realistic.
In addition, most training systems are closed or standalone or are not fully interoperable for cost savings or sustainability. The ARAIG technology is platform agnostic. Our products are interoperable and interchangeable with any system allowing the same ARAIG battle suit(s) to be worn for any of multiple training platforms, thereby limiting the number of total units needed. Further, as the technology is an add-on, any upgrades or changes do not affect the system it is attached to as it will work with existing systems, future systems, upgrades or changeouts.
IFTech’s products and services include: ARAIG Battle Suit wearable hardware, operating system, software services, training design services, program training services and technical support services. IFTech will work with solution providers or end-user clients to insure quick and seamless integration into current training solutions as well as assist in the creation of new or revised solutions.
Brodie Stanfield models the IFTech ARAIG Battle Suit.
ETSA: Where and how are your products used within the MS&T community?
Brodie: ARAIG is being used in the extended reality sphere, yet its applications support numerous platforms and programs, including live simulations. IFTech’s training design services were employed by Defense Research and Development Canada to create a virtual training program aimed at achieving a specific operational objective with multiple task elements. This program’s purpose is to train soldiers for a specific operational setting, test their abilities to meet desired performance standards, and make the correct critical decisions, all the while using techniques from their R2MR (Road to Mental Readiness) program to mitigate stress during operations.
Using Bohemian Interactive’s VBS simulation engine, IFTech worked with DND experts and training personnel, to create a virtual training scenario that:
- models real-world activities,
- includes current training performance criteria, standards and SOPs specific to Canadian forces doctrine,
- requires operators to carry out operational activities and decision making,
- provides battle stress,
- allows facilitator control, guidance and corrective actions, and
- grades outcomes.
Notwithstanding the extended reality training environment that we created in VBS, which could be used as a standalone training element, the addition of our wearable ARAIG Battle Suit technology is providing the much-needed multi-sensory upgrade connecting the eyes to the body, generating environmental feedback and greater realism for the operator. It elevates the existing visual training environment to a more realistic level for the trainee, providing customizable feedback to the wearer – from the recoil of a firearm, the concussion of an explosion like an IED, to locking out a limb due to injury, etc. – so soldiers feel and hear what is happening to them in this simulated environment. In this training scenario we impart the multitude of stressors that are faced within the operational setting. Now trainees are impacted in real time by everything that occurs within their simulated training environment.
Our operating system is versatile. It’s built on the Unreal Engine, which is used by a number of the largest training simulation companies in the world. The ARAIG operating system can fully integrate with immersion platforms, movies and video, training exercises, serious games and platforms and headsets or head-mounted displays. The software is cross-platform interoperable and allows for future proofing and sustainability of current and future solutions.
The DisTec Challenge judging panel had this to say about our technology:
“If the point of simulation is to prepare our troops for what they can expect in an operational setting, ARAIG is an excellent way to engage all of the senses and better prepare military personnel to operate in unfamiliar environments. It offers the opportunity to augment virtual training with physical experiences ranging from haptic feedback to 7.1 surround audio. This will assist defence establishments in attracting the next generation of soldiers, many of whom have grown up in a world dominated by point-of-view video games.”