Cat Food Boxes = Army Training Ground

Forget all those high-end computer graphics and mock Arab villages, writes Michael Peck in Training & Simulation Journal. One Army-funded researcher is using cat-food boxes and toy soldiers to test out how troops interact with military robots.

The project began in 2004 when the Army requested a study of human-robot interactions using multiple robots and multiple operators, said Florian Jentsch, director of UCF’s Team Performance Laboratory. The goal was to test factors such as the number of UGVs [unmanned ground vehicles] that an operator could control.
Although computer simulations are fashionable in the defense world, Jentsch realized that miniature vehicles and mock terrain had their advantages. For one, while a computer game might not be pricey, modifying it to test UGVs would costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. For another, adding civilian vehicles to computer simulations can be complicated. "But I can buy a 1/32-scale tractor-trailer for 12 bucks," Jentsch said.
Computer games also suffer from problems simulating physics; vehicles can often drive straight through buildings without a scratch or bounce off a virtual wall...
Using an initial $87,000 grant from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Jentsch’s team created a roughly 1/35th-scale Iraqi city. The scale military operations on urban terrain (MOUT) facility measures 26 feet by 30 feet, with most buildings about a foot high. It represents a 14-acre section of city divided into four areas: one with high-rise buildings, another with a market, a third representing a residential area, and a city perimeter with palm groves and open desert.
"Through the clever use of visual obstructions, such as walls, palm groves and building facades, we can create linear run distances of more than [simulated] 4.8 kilometers in length, without the vehicle having to traverse the same spot or see the same location twice," Jentsch said.
The initial setup took about six months and cost about $5,000 for cameras, transmitters, toy soldiers, miniature ferns and pipe cleaners to be transformed into palm trees. Buildings were made from cat food boxes.

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