In discussing the difference between VR and AR Training with Police Magazine, Lon Bartel, director of training and curriculum for VirTra, touched on some points that explain why Augmented Reality Training for law enforcement can be more effective than VR.
The first problem addressed with Virtual Reality was “VR sickness” which is caused by the cognitive disconnect of when your senses are perceiving movement but your body is relatively still. Some trainers try to lessen this by having students sit in chairs while they are wearing the headsets but this can cause more harm than good when training.
Bartel further talks about how training in this way could cause bad training scars in that it trains students in practice to not move from the line when they feel the need to use force because they might bump into something or make themselves sick. Which is where Augmented Reality Training comes in to combat this.
AR allows students to utilize and move around their real environment by having the system insert people or items in order to enhance the real-world space that they are in. This is different from VR because the student’s senses and the body’s movement are less likely to contradict each other, mitigating the sickness that comes with Virtual Reality.
Another point Bartel touches on is the use of CGI in VR training. With CGI characters, students are likely to experience the Uncanny Valley effect, which explains that people would be, “repelled and revolted by interactions with robots that appear ‘almost human’ but not exactly human”.
This creates a challenge in de-escalation and use-of-force training because the CGI characters are unable to represent the subtleties of human behavior. Students are then faced with the difficulty in be unable to read the character’s emotions and not knowing if they are reacting to the threat or the “subconscious aversion” that they have towards the virtual character.
Conversely, Augmented Reality allows agencies to place real people to play the roles of the characters in the training scenarios. Additionally, these “characters” are able to exist in the real space that the student is in. Thus, the student is interacting with humans displaying real emotions in a real-world space, creating a more effective training environment.
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When shopping for televisions, speakers, smartphones, etc., consumers understand variations of these technologies exist. When shopping for a TV, you consider clarity, size, features and more. So why wouldn’t you do the same research when making an important purchase— training for your department?
Variations of law enforcement training tools exist, but not all provide the same results. Using screens and projectors gives an entirely different experience and result when compared to virtual reality (VR) goggles/headsets. VR is an improving and promising technology, but it is still not up to the task of training officers. Training is a task that requires high fidelity environments that immerse officers.
Training scars – also called negative training – occurs when what you do in the classroom does not accurately match what is done in the real world. VR is lightweight and compact, plus the shiny new technology can sway agencies, but how is the training content?
Marksmanship is just one example of how dangerous negative training can occur with VR. When aiming a replica weapon with VR goggles on, the ballistic accuracy is not accurate enough to provide an experience that transfers to the field. The movement is not realistic, and one company even has trainees sitting down in order to use a CEW device. Officers are seldom seated when deploying a CEW weapon, so this can cause accuracy issues when trainees are moved into a real-life situation.
VirTra’s scenarios are video-based, and for good reasons. Filmed with professional equipment and real actors, the goal is for the scenarios to be immersive and lifelike. This allows officers to develop empathy for on-screen characters, just as they would in reality. CGI has drastically improved over the years as we have seen in movies and video games, but VR training graphics tend to be cartoon-like and do not elicit empathetic response.
Low quality simulation can also feed into the previously discussed topic of negative training. When simulated humans are unrealistic, it is likely that trainees will not be able to pick up on subtle visual cues such as expressions and minor motions. It is also unlikely that officers will be able to experience stress in the same way as they would if they were interacting with a video-based character. If the environment is not realistic, recruits will not take it seriously.
VirTra’s Co-CEO Bob Ferris and Director of Training Lon Bartel have explored this topic. If you would like to learn more about the differences between VR and screen-based simulation training options, click here: All That Glitters is Not Gold with VR Headsets_VirTra_Whitepaper
VirTra’s mission is to provide law enforcement and military with the most effective, realistic training possible for maximum skill transfer and increased safety. This is done by providing powerful firearms simulators, a majority of which have multiple screens to increase the immersion and teach trainees to put their head on a swivel.
Unfortunately, the recent hype surrounding virtual reality goggles has infatuated important decision-makers, who have become distracted with the new technology and disregard the disservice its teaching provides law enforcement.
Instead of falling victim to this exciting-but-lacking technology, VirTra is sticking with high-fidelity, scientifically-proven training simulators. Recently, VirTra’s CEO Bob Ferris and the Director of Training & Curriculum Lon Bartel wrote a whitepaper discussing how screen-based training beats VR-based training in nearly every category:
VirTra prioritizes training quality—from each scenario’s realistic branching options to marksmanship backed by independent third parties who verify ballistic calculation. Even the smallest nuances can break the training immersion, potentially causing training scars. Russ Read, a Washington Examiner reported, tried VR training and quickly noted its faults. “The red dot sight didn’t operate like the real thing—you had to line up the red dot with the front sight to shoot accurately. Additionally, reloading the magazine was an awkward, clunky experience.”
When shopping for technology, consumers are well aware of the variations that exist between companies. Considerations for clarity, size and features are given and analyzed, often weighed between the store brand and name brand. So why would agencies not provide the same research and consideration for their training departments?
Instead of a cheaper ‘store brand’ training solution—such as VR’s fake weapons and non-convincing reality—VirTra’s higher quality of training provides officers and warfighters the opportunity to use their personal firearms equipped with recoil kits inside a state-of-the-art environment. These simulators feature scenarios filmed in 4K and are compatible with a variety of accessories, allowing skills learned in training to transfer to the real world.
Refrain from following fleeting trends. Do your research and ensure the training budget is spent on the most effective use-of-force training system possible.
VR, the once ‘futuristic’ technology, is “hot” and starting to show up more and more. Over the span of a couple of decades, it has trickled into medical and law enforcement industries, promising new and better ways of training for doctors, officers, military personnel and other specialty industries.
On the surface, VR headsets sound almost too good to be true, the cure-all for the training needs of police. However, if you spend even 5 minutes actually going through the current VR training programs you will notice problems come to light.
For the full training effect, the trainee must be able to deploy the tools of their trade, such as firearm, Axon® TASER®, OC and flashlights. Moreover, these tools must be able to replicate the real-world but most VR today can only be ‘close’ to the real-world. Why is ‘close’ not good enough? Can you imagine training for a hostage situation where the pistol was a different weight and shape and the tracking was off just enough to where you don’t know if your shot would hit the hostage or the hostage taker? You’d leave the training potentially worse-off and more confused than before the training began. This is called negative training and, like the ‘do no harm’ code in medicine, it is also a mantra that instructors live by.
One of the most common complaints of VR training is the motion sickness—commonly known as “VR Sickness” or “Cybersickness.” As a result, individuals experience disorientation, nausea and/or eye fatigue¹. One study discovered more than 80% of participants experienced nausea and that out of those individuals, 9.2% vomited as a result².
Why this happens is quite simple: the brain receives visual information from the eyes that does not match physical information brought by the rest of the body. Or in other words, you see movement via VR but naturally do not feel the same exact movement in your inner ear¹.
In addition to the problem of correct tracking and movement—or really, the lack thereof—is the problem of CGI (computer generated images – like a video game character). Headsets typically utilize CGI environments and subjects, making it easier for the officer to ‘look’ around the environment and see from every angle.
But think about what it takes to make CGI look human. It’s a careful combination of natural body movement, eye movement, subtle facial and body cues, and more. To create a realistic human takes an entire team of graphic artists and animation specialists, who still struggle to make ‘CGI humans’ look human.
This is because of the “Uncanny Valley”; when a simulated human becomes 99% lifelike, humans naturally focus on the missing 1%³. Whether it is the slack skin, off-kilter movements or lack of sparkle in their eyes, we become off-put and distracted by the subject. Instead of seeing 99% of a human they see 100% of a non-human, video game avatar. As such, it is unrealistic to expect officers to train with CGI subjects when the officers themselves are disconnected by the fake characters.
Officer training is not a game and should not be treated as such. Although VR has continued to improve its technologies and visuals, there are side effects and immersion-breaking problems that cannot be ignored. Instead, departments must supply the most realistic, beneficial and skill-building training to their officers. Find out how by contacting a VirTra representative or watching our training here.
By Lon Bartel and Bob Ferris
It is tempting to embrace VR training. After all, VR headsets are high-tech and will surely be welcomed by millennials, right? Actually, like so many things in life, the truth is more complicated.
Let us start with the fundamentals. Is the trainee receiving important and valid training? If de-escalation training is needed, then realistic and accurate human appearance, speech and movement is required, otherwise any outcome during training could be dismissed due to the lack of realism. Likewise, if marksmanship training is needed, then a realistic and accurately tracked weapon is needed, otherwise any outcomes during training could be dismissed due to a lack of realism of the simulated weapon. But, if both de-escalation and marksmanship are to be trained, these problems are only magniﬁed.
Imagine practicing on a simulator that shows video game-like characters and the impact of all rounds are 5 inches to the left. After, the officer is informed they failed the hostage scenario—but did they? If the hostage taker was a real human, the officer could have read their body language, the look in their eyes, the tightness of their grip and, if the officer ﬁred a real pistol, they know they would have hit the hostage taker instead of the hostage.
If officers adjust to the training, intentionally ﬁring 5 inches to the right, they might do better in the next scenario but far worse in real life. This situation is a textbook example of the term “negative training”, when training actually hampers performance. There is no room for this in 2021 America, when perfected policing is demanded now more than any other time in history.
One inconvenient training challenge lies with human realism. For VR headset-based training, it is very common to use computer game-looking avatars. Keep in mind that people are astonishingly capable at reading subtle clues presented by humans in real encounters, but cannot ‘read’ these computer-generated avatar humans. This all but eliminates the effectiveness of gaining new insights and skills during the training session. An indicator of being on the wrong path is when a trainee reports to their fellow officers after VR training, “The avatars were a joke – nothing like talking with a real person.”
Officers must rely on nuanced verbal cues in de-escalation and judgmental use of force situations in order to predict what might happen next. This is how officers make split-second to raise their tone of voice, lowering a weapon or choosing to ﬁre.
Our reliance on subtle cues is reinforced by multiple research studies. These state, on average, people place 55% importance on body language, 38% importance on tone of voice and 7% importance on the words spoken by the other individual³, ⁴.
If over 50% of a person’s decision-making is based on nonverbal communication alone, then naturally, computer avatars—with their lack of ability to recreate subtle body language—do not equal effective training. Especially in decision-making training where human interaction is critical. But a solution exists. Instead of VR, certiﬁed video-based training is needed, as it utilizes photorealistic people who present accurate cues for officers, which makes life-saving training effective. Since video-based training varies immensely from supplier to supplier, it is equally important that the simulation training content be high-quality and certiﬁed by IADLEST or another respected national or international association. Relying on certified curriculum is also legally prudent – if shots are fired, a law suit can occur and juries will want to know if the agency provided effective training or not.
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Virtual Reality, often abbreviated to VR, is a technological phenomenon that has swept through the entertainment industry and left everyone in awe. The same technology is beginning to push its way into training, with companies like Verizon utilizing it to train for armed robberies. Now, law enforcement is beginning to have these tools at their disposal.
With simulation training reaching more and more agencies across the globe, screens may not be the only option available to law enforcement, but is it the best way to train? Below is a list of six common myths associated with VR training for police and why it may struggle compared to screen-based simulation training.
Myth #1: Simulation Training is All About the Same
Do law enforcement officers receive the same benefits regardless of what type of simulation training they use? The short answer is no. For training to be valid, there must be both physical and psychological fidelity for skills to transfer accordingly. Physical fidelity focuses on how closely the training environment replicates what exists on the field. Psychological fidelity on the other hand is focused on how closely the mental processes that occur in training match those that occur in real life.
There is a marriage between physical and psychological fidelity – both are important and one should not be neglected in favor of the other. These two validity processes must be in place for simulation training to truly be effective and transferable.
Myth #2: Video and CGI Humans Are About the Same
While CGI humans have made tremendous leaps and bounds over the years – the latest movies prove it – they are still not ready to be used in a training environment. Video still surpasses the realism provided by CGI humans and is much less expensive and time-consuming. Just as advances have been made with CGI, the same goes for video technology, which is a rapidly growing segment of the tech industry.
Myth #3: Realistic CGI Humans are Just Around the Corner
Despite the evolution of computer graphics, there are a few limitations that should not be ignored. The first is that computers use “shortcuts” to render scenes quickly, resulting in a lower-quality human replica. Even minor details that appear abnormal can cause people to feel discomfort when gazing upon a computer-generated human look-alike. At this point in time, seamless realism would only be achievable by the most talented graphic artists with the longest hours – who are only recently beginning to attain quality equal to video.
Myth #4: You Can Easily Make Any Scenario You Want with VR & CGI Humans
While CGI is coming closer to creating a photorealistic human, not many graphic artists have harnessed the technology yet – even with unlimited time and resources. And it is not just about having the computer image look human; they must move and behave human-like as well. Without all the working parts, both physical and psychological fidelity would be absent. Trainees would not feel the same empathy felt for a human replica as they would for something they associate with an actual person.
Myth #5: If CGI Humans Aren’t Realistic, We Just Need to Spend More Money on Them
There have been countless years where designers have attempted to make the perfect human replica. Whether it’s robots/androids or CGI, there has always been something slightly “off” that places it within the Uncanny Valley. The Uncanny Valley is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when something appears human…but something is missing. While lovable robots like Star Wars’ R2D2 tend to be thought of as cute, when a robot or image is very similar to a human but is missing a certain component, people tend to be revolted by it. Developers have tried numerous times to escape the Valley, but have only fallen even further within. Since CGI is not convincing enough, it won’t work for training.
Myth #6: Low Quality Simulation Won’t Harm Anyone
Even though an agency may purchase a simulator to help its officers, the same simulator could harm them if they are using incorrect training approaches. There are three fundamental components that every simulator should have in order to be helpful rather than harmful: weapon realism/accuracy, judgmental use of force, and stress during training. When a simulator lacks even one of these components, the low-quality training value could cause training scars.
For a more in-depth review of the topic, click the button below to download the Whitepaper authored by VirTra CEO and Chairman Bob Ferris and VirTra Director of Training Lon Bartel.