Thursday, April 7, 2011

67. US DoD turns to gamers to test submarine software

screenshot from dangerous waters
given the popularity of gaming in pop culture today, it's surprising the number of people i talk to that still maintain that video games offer no value.  they still imagine the old 8-bit heyday of the NES or older, generally discounting how it's evolved over the years.  aside from just entertainment, i've seen the platform be used for education, as tools to increase social awareness, recruitment, and with certain games nothing short of works of art.  and that's just the software side.  on that topic, our military is no stranger to pairing gaming with some outside-the-box thinking to develop educational and training tools.  remember when the army-sponsored america's army was released in 2002?  it wasn't meant to be just a game, but to provide a soldier experience for the player that was as informative as it was entertaining.  it's also a perfect example of gaming being used for a purpose, in this case communicating to citizens and potential soldiers about what it's like.  and it's still doing well.

so now it's the navy's turn.  recent developments from DARPA shows a piece of software that simulates submarines behavior and evasive maneuvers.  called the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) continuous trail unmanned vessel (ACTUV), the software asks players to try to track down those elusive subs.  it's a novel way of using technology to train personnel for an important goal, and it will eventually be rolled into actual toolkits for the ACTUV program, but of course there needs to be a lot of testing before autonomous software is used.

so how do you get a good base of testers for something like this?  given that the software lends itself to making a good simulation game, much like america's army, they did just that.  well, sort of.  the actual ACTUV tactics simulator is available online as a free download from DARPA, but they've also worked together with sonalysts combat simulations to integrate the software into a game called dangerous waters.  the game goes for realism, putting players in positions that reflect warfare situations.  you control a tracking vessel with realistic tools at your disposal, tracking down a submarine that's programmed to use probable and realistic evasive maneuvers to shake you off their trail.  but, like in a real scenario, you share the seas with other commercial ocean traffic, making navigation around civilians a concern in your hunt.  you get points for completing mission objectives (i mean what's a game without points?) and can share your scores, tactics and suggestions through leaderboards and a community site.

this is just an example of how the DOD is increasingly looking for public input into their technology development.  another recent project, the experimental crowd-derived combat-support vehicle (XC2V for short) used crowdsourcing in the form of a design challenge to come up with a next-generation combat support vehicle.  the army is also developing a virtual world to provide training for its peacekeeping operations - something similar to second life.  maybe it's just because i'm an all-purpose nerd but it's cool to me that this kind of development isn't only possible but actually happening.  i'm looking forward to what this kind of collaborative development along with other efforts in design competitions and social media can bring.  you can find some links to DARPA and the dangerous waters game below.

and on that note, you folks have a fine day doing whatever you're doing - i'm off to hunt me a sub.

and maybe a sub sandwich.  but i don't need tracking software for that.


sources:
information week via gamepolitics
DARPA official website

links:
DARPA ACTUV simulator page
sonalysts combat simulations - dangerous waters

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