Industry develops haptic technology to strengthen military training

What a feeling: Industry is developing haptic technology to boost military training

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The US military wants to improve its training and is investing funds in research and development to create more realism. With the prices coming down and the use cases increasing, the industry believes that haptic technology that can simulate real touch and feel will save the Department of Defense time and money once. that it will become common.

Engineering and Computer Simulations, a company based in Orlando, Florida, recently announced the opening of a new lab to test new sensory technologies for the military, navies and navies. It is one of the first of its kind in the country and could pave the way for widespread adoption by services in areas such as medical training and maintenance, according to company executives.

After working in haptics and virtual reality technology for decades, Waymon Armstrong, CEO and chairman of the company, said the technology has come a long way. While a soldier or medic on the battlefield wearing a haptic glove can experience what it is like to pull a trigger or flip a switch, they are more likely to do their job correctly.

“You put on the gloves and that just amplifies that,” he said. “It’s a force multiplier that makes it so much more real. “

With sensory capabilities available in gloves, Marines can train in many other scenarios, Armstrong said. In September, the Marine Corps awarded engineering and computer simulation contracts – along with six other companies – to indefinite deliveries / indefinite quantities with an estimated value of $ 238 million.

The Marine Corps is also integrating haptic technology into its advanced Force-on-Force Training Systems-Next, which will include a haptic wristwatch that will alert the user if a direct or indirect fire is directed towards them. Saab won the contract for the system this summer.

The military is also thinking about how to integrate the technology. The Orlando Lab’s first research and development program is funded by the Army Training and Simulation Technology Center. Until 2024, researchers will study how the service could benefit from three different gloves, including HaptX’s DK2 gloves.

The DK2 – which launched in January – uses microfluidic technology to move the skin of the user’s hand up to 2 millimeters, said Joe Michaels, chief revenue officer of HaptX. Compressed air flows through the glove to move 133 actuators against the palm to give the impression that a simulated object is actually pressing against it.

The glove also has tendons that can provide 40 pounds of resistance force to give virtual objects a shape and a solid feel, he said.

“Even though it’s just virtual in 3D space, we can move your skin the way it is when you touch a real object,” Michaels said.

But the realistic feel isn’t as useful unless it incorporates precise tracking, he noted. Taking advantage of the electromagnetic sensors in each finger, the DK2 is submillimeter accurate in its finger tracking.

“If you want to teach a pilot where their finger should go on a virtual panel, you have to know with submillimeter precision exactly where that virtual switch is and where the finger is,” he said.

“A fighter pilot in an emergency cannot open a training manual,” he added. “Their hands have to fly to the right place and flip the right switch without thinking about it.”

Additionally, if the gloves are suitable for maintenance training, they could save the military money by avoiding costly repair mistakes, Michaels noted.

Armstrong said young fighters were already used to haptic technology used in video games such as vibrating controllers, which would make the transition to using sensory training intuitive.

Michaels has seen the fervor for haptics spread since the launch of HaptX, based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., Nine years ago.

The company raised $ 31 million in investments during that time, but it wasn’t always about making technology for the military, he said.

“We’ve seen this happy confluence of interests, where we want to create the most realistic haptic technologies in the world, and the government is starting to understand that it needs it to avoid negative entrainment,” he said. Negative training occurs when trainees are taught so poorly that they have to be retrained.

HaptX has worked with the Army, Navy, and Air Force in addition to the Department of Energy and Defense Intelligence Agency, Michaels said.

However, the company encountered many of the same issues as other companies when it tried to work with the government.

“It’s not easy to get the government to act as one,” he said. “You try to work in achievable steps and show the promise of realistic haptics in individual cases and prove it.”

One of the challenges is that there is no single product that will work with every military program, he said. In addition, the glove is expected to work with different virtual reality technologies ranging from high end systems to low end systems.

However, progress is being made with haptic technology. One of the reasons for this has been the drop in the cost of products, Armstrong noted.

“When we started, the cost of the envelope was six figures,” he said. “Now it’s in the lower four digits, down to five digits, and it’s still going down.”

Michaels declined to disclose the cost of the HaptX glove, but said the price was always “more cost effective than what happens when something goes terribly wrong in a live training”.

Industry advances with haptic capabilities have been bolstered by military funding, said Neal Finkelstein, director of operations for the National Center for Simulation. Many companies that NCS works with have received seed funding from the Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, and Small Business Technology Transfer, or STTR programs. With the funding, companies receive more specific feedback on the capabilities that departments need, which improves product quality, he said.

“They just make them better every year,” he said.

For example, HaptX would not have been able to develop and enter a “greater growth path” without funding from the STTR program, Michaels noted.

“They saw the potential, even before it was mature technology,” he said. “Finding this kind of support is essential for a hardware company. “

However, the glove technology faces a logistical challenge that makes it difficult for the military to evolve, Armstrong said. A tight fit makes the systems more efficient, but this is difficult to achieve because everyone has a different sized hand. Most of the gloves on the market are priced as one size fits all, he said.

“The technology is going to be there, it’s right where people feel comfortable it’s my hand, and that’s how I hold it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the engineering and computer simulation lab is studying new technology that will engage a trainee’s sense of smell to enhance training, Armstrong said.

“There is an odor associated with blood. There is a smell associated with gunfire, ”he said. “It only amplifies the reality that you really believe you are there. … It will help you focus acuity, not just cognitively, decision making, [but also] this muscle memory.

However, the taking of this public capacity has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, he noted.

The lab plans to hold demonstrations in November at the National Training and Simulation Association’s annual Interagency / Industry Training, Simulation and Education conference in Orlando.

In addition to military customers, there is the potential for first responders and police to take advantage of haptic technology in their training programs, Armstrong said.

Another area of ​​interest in haptic technology is medical education, Finkelstein said. As the military moves away from animal practice in casualty care training, service members should still be able to realistically practice how to perform first aid or tie a tourniquet on the battlefield. .

“You don’t want to cut too deep and you don’t want to over tighten things,” he said of the medical procedures. “You have to feel it, and the way to do it is with… haptic feedback. (For more on military medical training, see article on page 35)

During this time, haptics advanced to the point where the military could potentially incorporate them beyond training.

For example, HaptX is developing a prototype of its glove that will allow users to control robotic hands. The robotic hand would send data to the haptic glove, allowing the operator to feel what he is feeling. This allows “incredible precision” for robotic control, which can be useful in critical environments, Michaels said.

A viral video of former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos stacking mugs using large robotic arms was a collaboration between HaptX and the companies Shadow Robot and SynTouch.

“It felt like this moment was going to matter to us, and actually it’s because everyone saw Jeff Bezos using haptic gloves,” he said. “He tells the story for us.

Another company, L3Harris, has its own variation of the technology which it has incorporated into its portfolio of unmanned ground vehicle systems. The Air Force has granted the company $ 85 million over 10 years to deliver up to 170 of its T7 robots, which will be used to clear dangerous explosives, according to a press release from the company. The first delivery is scheduled for 2022.

The robot provides users with a safe distance between themselves and potentially hazardous materials, said Paul Bosscher, chief engineer and senior scientist in the company’s robotics division.

Sometimes it can be difficult to see what the robot is doing from a long distance, even with cameras, he noted. This is where haptic technology comes in. Feedback in the remote control allows users to feel what the robot is feeling. This feeling combined with the camera views makes the system easy to use, he said.

Due to the sensory feedback in the glove, training in the use of the arm itself takes around three to five days, Bosscher added.

“The benefit of training for our customers really pays off as these operators get to grips with the equipment very quickly,” he said. “There is a high skill retention rate and they don’t forget how to use the system. “

He added: “You get fewer errors during missions, and fewer errors with a bomb is a good thing.”

The subjects: Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training

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About Joaquin Robertson

Joaquin Robertson

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