Picatinny advances bomb disposal training with video game technology


Picatinny Arsenal recently received a patent for a process to safely train soldiers how to operate a variety of robots used in Iraq and Afghanistan to detonate improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

Picatinny Arsenal, an American military research and manufacturing facility, created the Robotic Vehicle Trainer as a realistic video game that simulates combat environments and uses the same controls as actual robots used in Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).

The design was the brainchild of Bernard Reger, chief of the Combat Support & Munitions Systems Branch under the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Centre (ARDEC), the US Army said.

Reger received the patent from the US Patent and Trademark Office on December 28 last year, after applying in September 2006. The Robotic Vehicle Trainer patent covers the way a robot trainer allows a student to control a robotic vehicle using a virtual operator control unit within a virtual environment.
“The virtual environment inserts the student into hazardous environments enabling familiarization with the robotic vehicle and EOD bomb disposal tools,” Reger said. “The U.S. Army will be able to control the intellectual property of this process if it is being used by a contractor in developing robotic vehicle trainers.”

The virtual operator control unit, which is essentially a video-game controller, is built with the exact same joysticks, switches, dials and display features as a fielded robot. This allows the soldier to become familiar with the touch and feel of the real controls while in training.

The control unit connects to a laptop computer which runs the software application, allowing trainees to use the system anywhere, from the classroom to the field.

Work on this product started in 2003 as an experiment to insert the Talon robot used by EOD Soldiers into a virtual environment using the popular Army-developed game engine America’s Army.

With more than 8 million registered users, America’s Army is an interactive, first-person shooter game that allows civilians to get a taste of a soldier’s life. About a year after the video game launched in 2002, ARDEC began to implement practical training applications into the game for soldiers.

ARDEC’s Armament Software Engineering Centre and the Picatinny EOD Technology Directorate worked together over the next few years to define and refine requirements for a product that could familiarize EOD soldiers in operation of the Talon robot and explosive disposal techniques.

The same process was applied to other robots, including SWORDS, EOD PackBot and the CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) PackBot.

The Foster-Miller Talon and PackBot are both tracked robots used to disarm improvised explosive devices. Because they are remotely operated and equipped with cameras, they allow Soldiers to safely detonate suspicious objects from a distance.
“The robotic vehicle trainer provides EOD Soldiers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the operation of the robot without removing critical assets from the field,” Reger said. “It also provides Soldiers to ability to train in what would normally be a dangerous environment. The trainer could be rapidly updated with new tools and techniques of benefit to the Soldier.”

The trainers are meant to familiarize operators with the controls as opposed to training them how to respond to different EOD incidents and situations.

However, the operators also detonate different types of IEDs using an assortment of methods. The IEDs are found in locations realistic to where Soldiers would find when deployed, such as hidden in sandbags or in courtyards.