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MetaVR Visuals in Sandia Research UAS Performance Assessment Tool

Sandia Research Corporation uses VRSG in its Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) research project. Using a combined VRSG and Battlespace Simulations (BSI) Modern Air Combat Environment (MACE) solution, Sandia Research engineers built a research test bed, called SimSystem, which monitors the behavior of participants in the roles of pilot, sensor operator, and data exploiter (navigator) as they fly missions in a shared virtual environment via DIS.

Real-time MetaVR VRSG screen capture of a simulated Grey Eagle UAS over MetaVR's 3D terrain of Afghanistan. On the lower left is VRSG's simulated UAV camera view. Click to see an enlarged view.
SimSystem participant workstations. Photo courtesy of Sandia Research.

SimSystem’s high-fidelity 3D simulation workstations are used by participants and their observers for a behavioral research study to evaluate human effectiveness factors associated with user interface tools used to communicate between multiple crews operating in the same battle space. Observers/experimenters record user activity during mission scenarios, introduce equipment failures and other roadblocks into the scenarios, introduce ad hoc targets, and assess performance while the participants perform their duties in an environment generated by 3 VRSG licenses and 6 MACE licenses. The results of this research will be used to steer the development of real-world next-generation UAS interface tools used by the US armed forces and DOD organizations.


  A SimSystem set up for a three-participant UAS reconnaissance scenario. Image courtesy of Sandia Research.

In Sandia Research’s SimSystem, VRSG simulates the UAV camera payload and MACE provides the UAV flight path and semi-automated forces of characters and vehicles. The character and vehicle entities, and the static culture content are all from MetaVR's 3D content libraries. MetaVR also delivered its 1-meter North American terrain and its Asia terrain as part of the software order. For UAV scenarios that need to depict character activities on the ground (such as movements that resemble IED emplacement), MetaVR developed character models with accessories such as backpacks. These models are available in MetaVR's 3D content libraries. BSI has created some initial custom screen interfaces, as a starting point for the project, which researchers at Sandia Research will modify as needed as testing goes on. Sandia Research chose the VRSG and MACE solution because they wanted an all-in-one solution with which to fly high-fidelity virtual environments and the ability to program tasks or scenarios in a SAF environment.

Currently the test bed is used to study how a team communicates though a variety of modes (text, chat, radio/voice) on a shared mission, to find the most effective method of running a mission, and how the mission would still be effective in certain failure conditions. SimSystem’s flexibility enables it to be used with custom user interfaces, for recording the data needed to determine which methods work best.

A SimSystem setup with an experimenter console on the left. Image courtesy of Sandia Research.

SimSystem is currently offered for purchase. Sandia Research is working with two organizations that use the system. The Cognitive Engineering Research on Team Tasks (CERTT) lab at Arizona State University at Tempe has purchased SimSystem and is actively conducting a communications study. NASA’s aeronautics division is using SimSystem to study the future technology of air traffic control, focusing on the integration of landing commercial UAVs at airports.

In addition to its use as a test bed for studying effective human performance and communication among mission team members, Sandia Research’s SimSystem can be used in standalone mode to study how a sensor operator participant searches for and identifies possible IED emplacements. Although this case study describes the system’s use for measuring human performance in UAS operations, it can also be used for measuring performance in air combat or ground operations.

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