One of the biggest attractions is the cost – the software can use any virtual reality (VR) headset that can cost upwards of a few hundred pounds. Gathering hundreds of soldiers to blow up a bridge is very expensive, especially compared to donning a helmet.
According to EY research, the training could save the MoD some £1.3 billion.
“Training in real environments is expensive. It’s a way to train in a much wider range of environments and much faster,” says Professor Jordan Giddings of University College London, who is also a particle physicist working on the Improbable project. Defense.
Robinson hopes it will also help speed up minute-by-minute training. “The old adage says that the military is very good at fighting the last war, as opposed to the current conflict. And what our technology allows is a very fast update of this data and this information.
Information about the current war in Ukraine can be fed into the system, for example, using videos captured by civilians on phones, as well as media reports and satellite images.
Robinson says it could help with everything from understanding new tactics to how to apply anti-tank weapons and use drones. “The amount we learn from a tactical, technical and procedural perspective, watching, you know, this awful conflict unfold before our eyes is extraordinary.”
A lot of the work involves gathering the kind of data that the military might not have realized they could use, he adds: “We work with some of the best academics in the UK, who have specific expertise, like, say, population, traffic in urban areas, and that’s something that traditionally you wouldn’t get from the defense industry.
Improbable is one of many companies developing virtual reality training. Qinetiq, headquartered in Farnborough, best known for its robotics research, is also developing a successor to its training program which has trained 16,000 British soldiers for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.
BAE Systems has also created a simulation for landing its F-35 aircraft on an aircraft carrier, mimicking the volatile air pockets that pilots will face if they are to successfully land.
But there is also a lot of potential to be tapped, adds Professor Jordan. As with video games, such environments can create an entire world with all its complexity and randomness.
Improbable’s Robinson argues that the software’s potential lies in its ability to be part of a larger sham that everyone from politicians to industry leaders can use to try to solve some of the world’s problems such as the climate and energy.
Using artificial intelligence, much like the next generation of self-driving cars being developed, the software can also learn and start coming up with decisions on its own.
This intelligence can then be integrated into some of the computerized control systems used by modern drones, jet aircraft and armored vehicles to make some of the smallest decisions in a battle.
It can also be used for field rehearsals, just before a mission, and can ultimately be married to the real world as an augmented reality, where soldiers can carry a gun with blank ammunition around a field with simulated civilians and challenges, mixing virtual and field formations.
The technology “really isn’t just for training anymore,” says David Taylor of Qinetiq. It can also be used to visualize data and test designs for new military hardware.
For now, a giant integrated system imitating the whole world is still a long way off. A closer challenge is to make the simulation as close to real life as possible, to the point where empathy and compassion can be felt in order to make good decisions.
“They’re all components of that environment, you have to make it as real as possible,” says Robinson.