Table of Contents
- Why is training realism so important?
- What are the differences between a live fire range and a simulator?
- What is 360 degree training?
- Why does VirTra use both video and CGI for scenarios?
- Does “3D” help or hurt firearms training?
- How does a return fire cannon compare to Threat-Fire?
- How does VirTra’s tracking calibration work?
Real-world performance is often directly correlated to the realism and intensity of training. In short, the more realistic the training exercise, the more skills are transferable to a real-world situation. As a result, realism is critically important to any close combat tactical training.
A key component of the VirTra mission is to make simulated training as realistic as possible. VirTra invests in technology and actors to recreate the real-world in the simulator training exercises. This investment provides realistic 3D audio and special effects, realistic recoil training firearms, and shoot back capabilities.
This higher standard for realism in engagement skills and judgmental use of force simulation training leads to improved real-world skills for the trainees. Below is a chart that graphically shows the expected normal value relationship between simulation realism and real-world improvement.
The VirTra team believes live fire range training to be an irreplaceable part of firearm training. That said, firearm simulator training is an important compliment to training on a live fire range. VirTra provides recoil kits for many firearms, which permits realistic operation of the firearm without a live bullet traveling down-range. The lack of a live round enables entirely new ways to train.
The addition of a firearm simulator training system provides:
- Judgment training – A simulator training system practices advanced judgment and critical thinking skills that are needed for if/when to shoot and what level of force decisions.
- Threats during training – The stress of receiving return fire can be safely simulated with the VirTra Threat-Fire™ device, improving the realism of a training exercise.
- 300-degree training – On a live fire range, trainees must focus directly in front of them and thus cannot practice shooting in different directions, shooting off-balance, or surveilling a full 180 degrees to spot and engage the threat.
- Moving targets – Most real-life engagements involve shooting at moving targets. This requires expensive and specific equipment to accomplish on a live fire range.
- Safety – The use of live ammunition requires extensive safety requirements that reduce the realism when training on a range.
- Cost and access – Live ammunition is expensive and at times not even available for training purposes due to limited supply.
- Environmental impact – Many shooting ranges are closed each year due to environmental concerns; with a simulator, there is no environmental impact, no lead in the air, no chance of being shut down.
- Weather impact – An indoor firearm simulator training system can operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, regardless of weather.
Real-world engagements occur in a 360-degree environment. Threats come from all directions. When training on a single-screen simulator, the trainee is only utilizing a 60-degree field of view, and doesn’t have to turn to scan the environment for a potential theat. This reinforces the natural tendency to look ahead, creating dangerous “tunnel vision”. While difficult to maintain situational awareness of all directions during a real-world engagement, it is critical. A multi-screen video simulator training system that expands the field of view to up to 300 degrees dramatically improves the value of each training exercise.
For simulated training exercises to have valid psychological and physiological impact, they need to be realistic and the trainee must see the people in the scenario as ‘human.’ The brain is able to easily detect a ‘fake’ person when they are closer than 30 meters (100 feet). The appearance and movement of real people is perfectly captured by high quality video, where CGI creates ‘approximations’ of people. Even with the latest CGI technology, CGI ‘humans’ do not look and move like real people when viewing them at distances closer than about 30 meters (100 feet).
When dealing with potential threats at close range, law enforcement and military personnel use body language, micro-expressions, and subtle movements to make split-second life-and-death decisions. This makes using actors and high-resolution video far superior to CGI. VirTra tailors the use of high-resolution video or CGI based on what is best suited for a client’s requirements. Most VirTra clients prefer the realism of actors and high-resolution video for subjects closer than 30 meters (100 feet).
We hear the term ‘3D’ a lot as the consumer electronics industry promotes it as the next evolution in television. The 3D movement is about ‘stereoscopic 3D,’ where each eye receives a slightly different image to create relative depth perception. For decades, the entertainment industry has used this 3D effect to dazzle consumers.
Stereoscopic 3D is most effective at near distances where people use hand-eye coordination, for example to grab something. In the movies, they introduce exaggerated hyper-stereoscopic 3D to elicit an emotional response. In the real world, when you see someone 10 feet in front of you, they don’t ‘jump’ out at you, but by introducing hyper-stereoscopic 3D, the person unnaturally ‘pops’ off the screen. This is the exact opposite of the realism required for accurate firearms simulation training.
At distances used in firearms training, the 3D effect has no impact on training effectiveness because Stereoscopic 3D plays almost no role in our ability to determine depth at these distances. It also detracts from the realism of the scenario by requiring the trainee to wear glasses they don’t normally wear.
In addition, there are many one-eyed (monocular) depth perception cues that allow us to make accurate depth judgments. These monocular depth perception cues are very familiar and include perspective, overlay, shadowing, relative motion, relative size, etc. The very minor impact of stereoscopic 3D explains how people who have lost vision in one eye are able to match the firearm proficiency performance of people with both eyes functioning. In fact, the dominate eye is typically used to properly align a firearm to the target, making aiming a firearm an inherently monocular activity.
If firearm training realism is the goal, the following items are more critical than the 3D effect:
- Situational awareness – trainees should practice situational awareness and turning to engage a moving target requires practice on a multi-screen simulator
- Performance under pressure – Threat-Fire™ shoot-back system applies real stress during training
- Firearms with recoil kits – the training firearm should weigh and behave identical to a real firearm
A valuable way to add realism to a training scenario is to induce stress in the trainees. Trainees have a heightened awareness knowing there are physical consequences to their actions and decisions during the training.
There are two main types of shoot-back systems on the market: shoot-back cannons and Threat-Fire.
A. Shoot-back cannons
First introduced in 1999, these devices launch a ball at the trainee at a speed of about 200 feet per second (similar to a paintball gun on a tripod). The device’s main use is to train the officer to seek cover. If the officer does not seek cover, the instructor ‘shoots back’ avoiding the knee cap, shin, or groin.
The disadvantages of this method include:
- Cannon is fixed and only shoots from one direction.
- Participants must wear eye protection for safety at all times during training.
- Requires an instructor to carefully aim the cannon
- Instructor can accidentally hit the trainee in a sensitive region causing injury
- Instructor must police the balls continually
- The preferred hit zone area is restricted
The shoot-back cannon is available for sale to all simulation companies. While VirTra recommends the Threat-Fire device to its customers, it can supply shoot-back cannons when required. A company does have a patent on an automatic tracking technique and adding a shoot-back video feed into the display of the simulation computer. These features add marginal value to the shoot-back cannon and do not negate any of the main disadvantages. When professionals compare the cannon shoot-back with the Threat-Fire wireless electric impulse device, they consistently choose the Threat-Fire.
In 2005, VirTra introduced an entirely new approach to shoot-back with the Threat-Fire™. The goal was to eliminate the disadvantages of the shoot-back cannon, while preserving and adding to its advantages. The Threat-Fire is a wireless electronic impulse device typically worn around the mid-section. It is designed to provide a momentary shock when initiated by the instructor, and it has multiple duration levels. There is also a vibration-only version. The system is extremely easy to use, running on an internal rechargeable battery and requires no ball clean-up, no safety goggles, no aiming by the instructor.
Threat-Fire can be used with the Trainee Monitoring and Recording (TMaR) capability to monitor and record the trainee from the vantage point of a camera mounted in the training area. The instructor, while monitoring the trainee, can activate the Threat Fire based on the trainee’s actions and decisions. The TMAR can replay the scenario on the monitor to show the trainee exactly why the Threat-Fire was engaged. The instructor can also group trainees together and activate the Threat Fire based on one or more of the trainees’ actions and decisions.
The advantages of this method include:
- Improves realism by creating stress through consequences
- Instructor can introduce stress to one or more trainees simultaneously
- Instructor can vary the intensity levels of the shock
- Easy to operate
- No aiming required; instructors stay focused on evaluating trainee performance
- No safety goggles required
- No clean-up
- Instructors decisions can be supported with the video playback from TMaR
VirTra has been awarded a patent on this device and is the only company offering this device that integrates with a use-of-force simulator training system.
A simulator training system is essentially a scenario projected onto a screen with a threat target and a shot-detection camera that detects a laser fired at the screen. Calibration is the process whereby the projected image is aligned with the shot detection camera.
The historical approach to calibration was with a nine- or 16-point approach. With this method, the user must shoot targets or walk up to the screen and position a wand on a dot on the screen, then walk back to click ‘next’ and continue with the next spot until all dots have been completed. This method presents a number of challenges:
- Accuracy is impacted by how precise the user is when positioning on each dot, which changes from person-to-person and calibration-to-calibration.
- The computer, using this user-generated data, then approximates the alignment of all other points on the screen. However, the only points the system has truly calibrated are those nine or 16 spots where a human has held a wand to the screen.
- Requires use of a wand on screen or use a simulated firearm as a mouse pointer.
- Accuracy is closest near the center of the screen, but becomes less accurate for much of the outer screen space. Some companies compensate for this by having all the action in the very center of the screen, but this isn’t realistic, reinforces tunnel vision, and lowers the level of challenge for all trainees.
- Provides no mathematical certainty for accuracy. If the wand was to the right of the calibration point, no one knows. Without numeric calibration data, the system is incapable of permitting verified marksmanship training. It can still be a helpful tool for firearms training, but unable to accurately qualify a shooter.
- Assumes the projector and camera are linear, which further impacts accuracy.
Below is an artistic rendering to visualize possible assumptions made by this point-based method; please note that as each company has their own proprietary formulas, this rendering may not be accurate to all point-based tracking methods.
Below is an image taken from the VirTra calibration process, which uniquely maps the entire projected surface to the entire active camera sensor. Every pixel is accurately mapped, creating the most precise and automatic calibration method.
Why do you need to calibrate every pixel? Because each projector and camera is unique and highly complex. They are typically composed of multiple 3-dimensional lenses in both the projector and the camera. Below is a sample diagram of the lens for a common projector, which gives some idea of the complexity of the light path through just one sample component of a standard simulator.
Even if it was possible to implement all the advanced mathematics needed to accurately calibrate the entire projected screen to the shot-detection camera with multiple lenses, it is still best to use the VirTra direct calibration approach. For the VirTra calibration process, you simply remove the filter on the camera and then you click to have the computer start the calibration. The computer automatically has the projector display a graphic that moves across the screen, while the camera detects the graphic the projector is displaying. This requires no approximations and no standing around with a wand or using a firearm to try to ‘shoot’ calibration targets.
The VirTra approach provides the following advantages:
- Far higher accuracy across the entire field of simulation
- No manual or other human-error prone methods used
- Easier for the operator than manual calibration