In the first in a series of simulation and training industry innovators disrupting the market space, Halldale Group Editor Marty Kauchak gained insights from Gastão de Figueiredo, Senior Vice President for Strategic Partnerships at 

Click above to hear this story. is quickly moving beyond its early legacy as a gaming studio that created synthetic environments. Gastão de Figueiredo pointed out, “We’re the company behind Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. We designed a 3D digital twin of the planet and the founders realized there was more to it than just the gaming space.”  

Indeed, when leadership looked at the overarching S&T space, especially in defense, they realized there was a strong desire to employ “high-end, AAA gaming technologies,” to provide high levels of fidelity to enable training audiences to train as they will fight. 

To meet the insatiable requirements for increasing levels of more realistic, high-end training in this market space, has brought to bear underpinning technologies including AI – machine learning at scale for the simulation environment. 

While limited by non-disclosure agreements and other contract vehicle clauses from discussing the company’s presence in US defense training enterprises, the executive did note, “There are leading defense providers in the simulation and training area that are currently building products using our technology. I will let them make that announcement when they are ready. Our technology is directly available from us.”  

Beyond Defense and the US’s customer base is expanding beyond the defense sector and outside the United States.  

For work with the US federal government, the company has teaming agreements with Microsoft, Maxar, and other companies. When MS&T pointed out another collaborative effort, for Unreal Engine 5, de Figueiredo recalled Epic Games has been a great partner for his company. “We’ve been the recipient of one of their megagrants early on. They saw the potential of our technology as a differentiator in terms of what you can build using the Unreal Engine as its foundation for modeling and simulation. You have a high-performance, physics-based engine that allows people to create whatever simulation model they need for flight, vehicles moving, collisions and all of the things you would expect in a combat type of environment. What we created was a plug-in architecture that goes inside Unreal Engine – we support 4.27 and 5 onward. The plug-in allows any user in Unreal to tap into our whole planet and create whatever simulation they need with the planet as a backdrop as a foundation for their simulation.” 

blackshark is expanding its portfolio into the adjacent commercial aviation training sector. To that end, de Figueiredo noted that its digital airports portfolio is being built by using AI and machine-learning technologies to detect airport features (terminal buildings, runways, taxiways and so forth). “We then tap into other external data [FAA and others]. We conflate that and generate a very realistic reconstruction of the airport, inclusive of approach ways, navigational aid placement, runway markings, lighting, etc. We can very quickly generate a synthetic version of the airport that can be used inside a training and simulation environment.” de Figueiredo noted his team was working on a press release that would announce his company would provide a simulation and training solution to a major, world-class provider of commercial pilot training.       

Evolving Technology Thrusts 

The notion of digital twins is increasingly being discussed in and beyond defense training enterprises, and was certainly one common discussion point on the exhibition floor and in the meeting rooms at 2022 I/ITSEC. De Figueiredo declared digital twins are a “very interesting construct because certain areas of the commercial space have been using digital twins for a long time, in the sense you build a control center for a power plant, a telephone network, or a distribution network of some sort. In the wake of Covid, many companies have realized there is a powerful aspect to simulation in things like supply chains and disruption of operations. You can be a lot better prepared to face these circumstances if you have a functioning replica of whatever process you have of a factory, to a network, and other applications.” In one case, a company like FedEx was cited as an example of a commercial sector pioneer using simulation to role play and respond to weather disruptions or other major, catastrophic events within its network. “When you bring this back to the defense side, defense has always been looking for a way to simulate, train and plan from the theatre to a strategic to an operational and down to the tactical level,” he pointed out and emphasized, “These are similar problems being solved, a similar technological foundation, but just different purposes.”  

Metaverse was another huge discussion topic at 2022 I/ITSEC and remains an emerging topic of interest. While de Figueiredo initially observed that “we jokingly say metaverse is a buzzword at a venture-backed company,” he continued, “for us, we think of metaverse as a ‘system of systems’ just like the internet was a ‘network of networks.’ For us, the concept of the metaverse is integrating all of these different systems and using standardized interfaces in a way that enables a broader set of operations to occur at a much larger scale.” An analogy the executive favors in his discussion of metaverse begins with looking at how simulators have traditionally been built – for a purpose by a single supplier that integrated all hardware and software. “In a metaverse, in a system of systems, it would be possible to integrate all of these discrete functional simulators into a whole, so if you are doing some wargaming, the person who has the gunner simulator makes a mistake to cause the enemy to react in a certain way, that can ripple across the entire simulation in real time... That’s how I think of the metaverse, as the enabling backdrop of networks, systems, protocols, interfaces and standards, that take these different simulation environments, interoperate together, cohesively.” So, does this subject expert believe the metaverse is a reality in defense enterprises? He shares his insights on this and other related metaverse topics in the recorded interview link.’s Roadmap 

Peering into 2023 and the broader near-term, de Figueiredo said’s vision is to continuously evolve the scale and fidelity of the digital twin it provides, “so we’re investing in other forms of data that help us enrich the level of fidelity, both in terms of how close to reality it is and how close to performance it is.” Beyond that, the company is reported to have “a lot of activity in the geospatial intelligence front, both in being able to recognize more things that can brought into the digital twin, but also to be able to work with companies that are deploying our algorithms in situations where they are doing things like ‘change detection.’