The Modern Battlespace recently had the chance to attend the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC). This conference, held annually at the end of November in Orlando, is the foremost training and simulation event that shows how new technologies can transform how we train warfighters, medical personnel, and other tactical operators in various industries and professions.
One trend that was a focus of numerous side sessions and panel discussions at this year’s I/ITSEC was the use of the Metaverse and Extended Reality (XR) for the training of warfighters and tactical operators. Although we defined the Metaverse and XR in much deeper detail in our previous article, the Metaverse is an immersive virtual reality environment, and XR is the collection of technologies that allow users to access the Metaverse. These technologies include Augmented Reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and Mixed Reality (MR).
As we discussed previously, the Metaverse and XR could provide many benefits in training environments. These technologies are widely being embraced by younger generations that will soon expect them to be embraced in training environments, making them essential for recruitment and retention in the future. They can also deliver efficient and effective immersive training environments, enabling the military to safely replicate high-stress, dangerous training situations.
These benefits sound great, but metrics illustrate that the military is lagging behind other industries and organizations in embracing and adopting these technologies. In a list of industry sectors anticipated to experience the most growth in the Metaverse and XR by 2025, presented by Kay Stanney, CEO of Design Interactive, video games ranked number one with $11.6 billion in growth, while the military ranked number eight at only $1.4 billion in growth. Considering the size of military budgets and the military’s role as one of the largest employers in the U.S., this is a surprising figure.
If there are so many benefits of utilizing the Metaverse and XR, why is the military’s anticipated investment so low in comparison to other sectors? The answer comes down to content creation, data governance, standards, and data security.
Content is King.
The key to creating effective training programs is engaging content; this also applies to the content accessed in the Metaverse.
“As XR environments become pervasive, demands on their capabilities are increasing.” — Elliot Winer
XR-specific user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design paradigm are needed that uniquely supports and standardizes 3D design and interaction for its users. It is not good enough to simply project PowerPoint slides or PDFs into VR goggles – the military must think differently by appealing to all the senses in order to best replicate training environments.
Gen. William Glaser, Director of the Synthetic Training Environment Cross-Functional Team, spoke to this point, “I think, a significant challenge as we move forward is replicating that training environment for our commanders, which is going to be critically important…”
But creating new, immersive training environments that feel real and provide valuable training experiences to warfighters is easier said than done. Capabilities are needed that can readily overcome the current lack of XR content by automating the production process.
This demand for immersive and adaptable Metaverse and XR content will only increase in the future as XR technology becomes more prevalent. Elliot Winer, Director of the Virtual Reality Applications Center at Iowa State University, elaborated on this issue when he said, “As XR environments become pervasive, demands on their capabilities are increasing.”
Open standards are needed
While the Metaverse is not a new concept, it just starting to see wide adoption in the military. Since the technology is just starting to be adopted for military training use cases, there are no established standards and criteria for the development of military Metaverses or VR environments.
“There’s no way we can bring all this together and have the Metaverse reach its full potential without a baseline, a foundation of standards.” — Nadine Alameh, Ph.D.
The creation of standards will require a deliberate and conscious investment and collaboration from both industry and the Department of Defense (DoD). By working collaboratively with industry partners, the DoD can identify its requirements for virtual training and simulation environments and implement standards for industry partners that can aid in the development of interoperable solutions.
Without these requirements and standards, we cannot reach the full potential of the Metaverse. Nadine Alameh, Ph.D., CEO and President of Open Geospatial Consortium, spoke to this point when she said, “There’s no way we can bring all this together and have the Metaverse reach its full potential without a baseline, a foundation of standards.”
Another consideration that needs established requirements and standards involves the management and security of Metaverse data. The Metaverse produces so much data that it can be difficult to identify which training data the military could and should be leveraging to gauge the success of training programs and solutions.
As the use of the Metaverse increases, the military needs to answer difficult data questions. What data can be used to gauge effectiveness and how can the quality of that data be determined? How do they build trust in the data? What data formats should they standardize on?
Answering these questions is essential if the military is going to translate this data into reliable and meaningful outcomes.
How do we keep data safe?
Data is extremely important in the Metaverse, and this raises some concerns in the military. How do we manage Metaverse data? How do we share this data?
“We’re moving to a world where the military has to operate in untrusted networks, and they have to make decisions about what data is on devices as well as what devices can be allowed.” — Roger McNicholas
Can you imagine what would happen if an adversary got a hold of this crucial Metaverse data, or worse, if they hacked into the U.S. military’s Metaverse? This threat is all too real. Roger McNicholas, Vice President of Training, Testing, and Efficiency Solutions at General Dynamics Mission Systems, expressed this concern, “We’re moving to a world where the military has to operate in untrusted networks, and they have to make decisions about what data is on devices as well as what devices can be allowed.”
The Metaverse needs to have the ability to validate users and devices. This can be achieved by utilizing passwords, biometric scans, or cryptographic keys. Zero trust approaches may also help alleviate this risk. Additionally, the Metaverse needs to have the ability to shield users as well as organizational data. This may be made possible by encrypting data with strong algorithms and using access controls to limit which systems and users can gain access to user data.
Lastly, the Metaverse requires the ability to protect against cyber-attacks. This can be fulfilled by using firewalls against illicit entry and by using intrusion detection systems to identify and avoid cyberattacks.
Even with these solutions, the fear of not being able to protect Metaverse data impedes Metaverse adoption.
I/ITSEC demonstrated that there is value and benefit to the disparate military services leveraging the Metaverse and XR technologies for training. Unfortunately, a lack of standards, concerns about security, and questions about data management continue to hamper their adoption.