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MetaVR Visuals in UAS Simulation

For over a decade MetaVR™ visuals have been used in the US Army’s unmanned aerial system (UAS) training simulators, primarily through the Multiple Unified Simulation Environment / Air Force Synthetic Environment for Reconnaissance and Surveillance (MUSE/AFSERS) simulation system, where Virtual Reality Scene Generator™ (VRSG™) provides simulated video feeds for various intelligence gathering platforms. The MUSE/AFSERS program is the primary UAS training and simulation system used in the Department of Defense for command- and staff-level joint services training and provides the largest number of fielded simulation systems in the US.

As result, MetaVR has become one of the largest suppliers of commercial licensed 3D visualization software for UAS simulation training in the US military, with nearly 2,000 active VRSG licenses in the field.  In 2014 alone, the US Army purchased 300 VRSG licenses for Grey Eagle and Shadow operator training for nearly $3 million.

Real-time MetaVR VRSG screen capture of a simulated Gray Eagle UAS over MetaVR's 3D terrain of Kismaayo, Somalia. Inset image is VRSG's simulated UAV camera view. Click to see an enlarged view.
Real-time VRSG screen capture of a simulated Gray Eagle UAS in flight over MetaVR's 3D terrain of Kismayo, Somalia. Inset image is of VRSG's simulated UAV camera view. Click the image to see an enlarged view.

The Army uses VRSG in its Shadow Crew Trainer, and in Grey Eagle, Aerosonde, and Hunter trainers in portable, classroom, and embedded configurations. VRSG embedded in the Army’s Universal Ground Control Station (UGCS) Embedded Trainer for training operators of the Shadow, Grey Eagle, and Hunter UASs in its Universal Mission Simulators (UMS). VRSG is also used in Institutional Mission Simulators.

The UMS incorporates multifunctional software approaches to provide UAS operators with a high-fidelity training experience for individual, crew, and collective training for piloting Shadow, Gray Eagle, and Hunter UAVs. In addition to a portable classroom, each simulation setup replicates a full GCS shelter with one-seat, two-seat, and three-seat configurations.

The UGCS is a NATO standardization agreement STANAG 4586-compliant command-and-control platform. It incorporates a digital Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) for robust bandwidth and data security, and is designed to command and control multiple joint services UASs simultaneously.

A key feature of VRSG is the ability to stream real-time HD-quality simulated video with KLV metadata using the H.264 protocol, which is indiscernible in composition from actual UAV video feed. This means that when UAS operators/trainees are not flying an actual UAS, they can fly a simulated UAS using the same hardware they use to operate the real system, using the JTC/SIL MUSE air vehicle and data link simulation software and VRSG. 

Real-time VRSG scene featuring MetaVR's Shadow TUAS ground control station model.
Real-time VRSG MUM-T scene with ground control station model (and two character models within) and an Apache entity from MetaVR's 3D content libraries.

With MetaVR visuals used for simulated UAV camera payload video in ground control stations and in manned aircraft simulators, UAV operators, pilots, and JTAC trainees can achieve fully correlated HD H.264 simulated sensor video with accurate KLV metadata that replicates the actual sensor payload imagery of ISR assets during manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) and other distributed training exercises.

VRSG can be configured to simulate a UAS in a variety of ways, ranging from using VRSG’s internal camera payload model in which the telemetry of the simulated UAV is provided by a DIS or HLA entity, to fully integrated applications such as the MUSE UAV tactical trainer.

Simulation features include:

  • Capturing high-resolution virtual world screen images remotely. VRSG can instruct the UAV camera to capture the current image in its field of view from remote operators in the simulation environment, save the image as a large-format NITF file, and deliver the file for display on another computer. This feature simulates the Global Hawk large image sensor capability.

  • Using VRSG as a simulated, live, virtual video feed from a UAV that is used to classify ground information from a Geographical Situational Display. Airborne or space-borne collection systems that use Ground Moving Target Indication (GMTI) and target identification devices create symbolic representations of moving entities over large geographic areas. VRSG enables the operator to refine target identification and classification.

  • Streaming real-time UAV KLV metadata multiplexed into an HD H.264 (MPEG-4) transport stream. Tactical exploitation systems can use VRSG's streaming MPEG feed to visualize sensor payload imagery in real time and extract the UAV metadata. VRSG supports the KLV encoding of UAV telemetry in a compliant subset of NATO standard STANAG 4096 to include EG 0601 KLV metadata, and MISB security metadata standard 0102.7. The metadata editor GV 3.0 is an example of a system that can decode VRSG's H.264 stream and embedded UAV metadata. (A screenshot of GV output with metadata is shown below. ) The H.264 stream can be transmitted live over UDP to a ROVER device (or any device that can play back video from an ISR video feed), or streamed to a file for later playback. The H.264 encoding and metadata multiplexing runs as a plugin for VRSG on the same computer. The plugin requires no extra hardware, software, or cost beyond a VRSG license.

  • Coupling VRSG with remotely operated video-enhanced receiver (ROVER) devices, which are often used by JTACs / FACs in close air support (CAS) missions. VRSG generates the simulated 3D scene and the range and coordinates of a designated target on the ROVER's monitor. One aspect of training UAS operators entails interacting with JTACs in joint mission training. Training together in a networked synthetic environment, the UAS operator and the JTAC on the ground work together to identify the same target in a scene.

GV3.0 output of decoded MetaVR VRSG's MPEG stream and embedded UAV metadata.
A screenshot of GV3.0 output of decoded VRSG's H.264 simulated sensor video with accurate KLV metadata.

Networked environments that do not have the bandwidth to handle VRSG’s simulated UAV camera video feed directly set up a UAV regeneration station to capture the streaming simulated video in the form of data packets. These data packets are then regenerated as video, and streamed to another device on a local network, such as a ROVER. This regeneration station is a computer running another VRSG license that can receive UAV Master messages over a long-haul network from a remotely located UAV operator.

Real-time MetaVR VRSG scenes featuring a Shadow UAV entity flying over MetaVR's virtual Afghanistan, the Shadow's simulated camera view of an insurgent compound below it, JTAC and coalition soldier characters, and the JTAC's simulated designator view of the target scene. Click to see an enlarged view.
Real-time MetaVR VRSG scenes featuring a Shadow IE UAV entity flying over MetaVR's virtual Afghanistan, the Shadow’s simulated camera view of an insurgent compound below it, a JTAC character, and the JTAC's simulated designator view of the target scene. Click any of the images to see an enlarged view.

Since 2002, MetaVR VRSG has been the primary supplier of visual systems for the U.S. Army's Joint Technology Center/Systems Integration Laboratory (JTC/SIL) MUSE/AFSERS simulation system. The program provides the largest number of fielded simulation systems in the US and is the primary UAS training and simulation system used in the Department of Defense for command- and staff-level joint services training at the UAS schoolhouse at Fort Huachuca, AZ and other UAS training sites.

Simulation training in the classroom at the UASTB facility Fort Huachuca, AZ, on embedded trainers using VRSG.

To train operators of the Shadow, Hunter, and Grey Eagle UASs in a classroom setting such as at the UAS schoolhouse at Ft. Huachuca, the Army uses Institutional Mission Simulators (IMSs), which are full-size mockups of the actual ground control stations from which UAVs are operated in the field. The JTC/SIL develops and builds these classroom IMSs and their portable counterparts which soldiers can use in the field to maintain flight time requirements and currency.

The MUSE/AFSERS simulation is a general intelligence collection platform simulation for airborne collection systems with electro-optical (EO), infrared (IR), and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) payloads. The MetaVR MUSE VRSG system provides the visualization system component for MUSE that generates synthetic payload scene video and/or imagery of the 3D battlefield with simulated target entities. This video and imagery is subsequently fed to a tactical or generic UAS/intelligence platform control station where operators perform air vehicle and payload control functions, and an air vehicle and data link simulation.

U.S. Army's Shadow TADSS desktop training suite with MetaVR visuals. Image courtesy of AAI/Textron.

Also since 2002, the US Army has purchased VRSG licenses for ongoing fielding in its embedded Shadow Crew Trainer (SCT), part of its Training Aids, Devices, Simulators, and Simulations  (TADSS desktop training suite). These licenses support embedded trainers in Shadow TUAS, Aerosonde, Hunter, and Grey Eagle UASs, which are used by both Army and Army National Guard units. The SCT is a mission-level classroom/desktop or mobile environment training device that enables users to train on their specific roles, as well as team-level communication and mission rehearsal.

AAI Shadow TUAS supported by its launcher trailer.
The Shadow UAS is supported here by its launcher trailer. Notice the camera extending from the bottom of the aircraft, which supplies video feed to the ground control station shown in the images above. This is the camera view that VRSG simulates.

The SCT, which can be housed in a climate-controlled trailer or a classroom configuration, includes an instructor/operator station, two stations for GCS training, a staff/leader role-player station and a launch/recovery training station. The dual GCS allow users to coordinate the handoff required during launch/recovery. The instructor can work with the other users to simulate pre-flight activities, train on fault scenarios and capture crew performance for after-action review. Trainees can log SCT hours as flight hours toward their overall requirements for Shadow UAS training. The simulated flight hours reduce air frame fatigue expenditure that would normally occur as students would train to become proficient using the real aircraft.

  AAI's TUAV ground control system shell mounted on a humvee.   View inside AAI's TUAV GCS, showing MetaVR VRSG simulating the Shadow camera payload.
  The ground control station shell is mounted on a humvee, which tows the Shadow UAS behind it on a launcher trailer as shown in the last image below.    A view inside the control station, showing VRSG simulating the Shadow camera payload.

The GCS is a critical component of the TUAS system. In normal operation, the GCS is used to control the flight of the UAS and receive its telemetry. When the system operators are not flying the actual UAS, they can fly a simulated UAS using the same hardware using the JTC/SIL MUSE air vehicle and data link simulation software and MetaVR VRSG.

View from inside a GCS.

VRSG provides realistic simulation capability for UAS training packaged in a ruggedized deployable container for the MUSE and AFSERS programs. The image below shows a ruggedized container-based system that is designed such that it can be palletized and airlifted to training exercises in the field on short notice and can survive the journey and the training scenario under harsh environmental conditions. MUSE unmanned training systems are deployed for overseas training exercises.

Ruggedized container-based MetaVR visual system.
MetaVR VRSG ruggedized rackmount system.

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