Who’s Maximizing the Metaverse?
The U.S. Army.
When we think of the metaverse, we think of virtual reality games, perhaps, or a place to hang out, have meetings or shop. The metaverse might conjure images of 3D house tours or virtual fitting rooms — or video games like Second Life and Roblox and movies like Ready Player One — but these were designed for convenience or entertainment.
A McKinsey study defined a “full vision” metaverse with a caveat that “while the definition is still fluid — and will likely continue to be for some time — the consensus view is the metaverse is the next iteration of the internet, where it becomes something we are immersed in, rather than something we just view.”
For the metaverse to evolve as the next iteration of the internet, seamlessly combining our physical and digital lives, it will need to include:
- Concurrency with thousands of geographically dispersed people interacting simultaneously
- A fully immersive experience
- Interoperability across devices and platforms
- Real-time interactivity
- User agency — and support for use cases extending well beyond gaming
Real estate, retail and gaming companies are still learning to fully leverage the metaverse’s potential, despite massive investments from leading technology firms. But, if any organization has already begun to maximize the metaverse’s potential, it’s the Army. The Army is developing a metaverse that offers a simulated world for military training. It’s moving military simulation into the cloud and supporting fully immersive, real-time interaction between massive numbers of trainees and AI.
A Microcosm for the Metaverse’s Potential
For decades, the military has relied on simulations to safely train its personnel. The key to conducting effective training lies in its repeatability and the ability to expose troops to as many scenarios as possible. But it’s been difficult to deliver this type of training at scale (i.e., with large numbers of trainees in a common synthetic environment) because current training simulations have significant limitations.
Armed forces worldwide are experts at integrating different simulations to practice combined arms warfare. Using standard and well-defined protocols, instructors can integrate flight, tank, forward air controller and other simulators to create a virtual environment where trainees can collaborate on particular maneuvers. But these simulations can’t necessarily recreate every environment. For example, it’s hard and expensive to represent dense urban environments crawling with thousands of people and vehicles. Building correlated terrain across many different simulators is difficult, resulting in different simulators having a slightly different version of the virtual world (e.g., air and ground operators on different simulators won’t see the exact same 3D environment).
Enter the Synthetic Training Environment (STE). This forward-looking program will overcome the limitations of traditional, integrated simulations to safely train thousands of air and ground troops simultaneously in any terrain, and at a much lower cost than war games exercises conducted at, for example, Fort Irwin’s National Training Center in California.
The Evolution of STE
STE uses virtual and mixed reality headsets, the latest PC and graphics hardware, and best-in-breed image generation and tactical training software to deliver an interactive, high-fidelity 3D recreation of anywhere on the planet. STE includes a digital twin of the Earth based on 3D data from many sensors including satellites, augmented with procedural enhancement to ensure that terrain looks real at any altitude.
Unlike traditional integrated military simulations, the STE will support cloud-centric simulation services in a highly efficient and scalable manner. This new architecture will enable the interaction and collaboration of an unprecedented number of human and AI-controlled avatars in the virtual environment in a persistent, online virtual world. For the first time, entire brigades will be able to conduct simulated training at the same time — from soldiers to commanders and their staff.
So, how does STE align with McKinsey’s definition? The STE will certainly provide a sense of immersion, real-time interactivity and user agency for the Army, and it represents a step-change in capability for military simulation. Pete Morrison, CPO of BISim, predicts that initiatives like STE will “deploy training simulations on web architectures right down to the point of need, allowing the Army to record training data for a massive number of simulated exercises.”
The Internet was first invented for military purposes, so perhaps the military metaverse will play a role in whatever comes next. The military’s metaverse may pave the way for other cloud-based, open-sourced, large-scale digital worlds to thrive.
Pete Morrison is co-founder and chief product officer at BISim. He is an evangelist for the use of game technologies and other COTS-type products and software in the simulation and training industry. Pete studied computer science and management at the Australian Defence Force Academy and graduated with first-class honors. He also graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon, into the Royal Australian Signals Corp. He served as a Signals Corp Officer for several years. His final posting was as a Project Officer in the Australian Defence Simulation Office (ADSO).