The Future of Simulation and Training Tech
The Government of Canada lists Training and Simulation as one of Canada’s Key Industrial Capabilities (KIC): a capability that Canada believes should be invested in on major defence and Coast Guard procurements by forming part of a bidder’s Value Proposition (VP). All this is not surprising because Canada boasts one of the first and largest simulation and training companies in the world: CAE Inc., a home-grown Canadian Aerospace and Defence company and one of the worlds leading exporters of aviation training and simulation. It also makes perfect sense: Canada is reequipping its Navy, Army and Airforce with new platforms and technologies that will need future Training and Simulation solutions. One service that is well into this modernization is the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) through the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS). The RCN has prudently embraced a focused Future Naval Training Strategy (FNTS) to address its force generation requirements of a future fleet, while seeking world-class training and excellence at sea. The RCN needs training that is relevant today and scalable through the life of the new platforms, potentially 50 years. If you think how far technology has come in the last 19 years – let alone the last five – it’s a daunting task, but I believe it is a big opportunity for the Canadian tech industry.
Canada’s CAE is still the largest actor in the Training and Simulation ecosystem – an ecosystem that has been expanding with new players and offerings over the last 10 years. That expansion has been made possible by Consumer Off the Shelf (COTS) technologies such as civilian gaming engines, augmented, virtual, and mixed reality (AR/VR/MR). These COTS technologies make it possible to rapidly innovate in the Training and Simulation ecosystem. Companies such as Bluedrop, Modest Tree, and Kognitiv Spark, Iris Dynamics, and RaceRocks are emerging Canadian-owned firms able to offer some level of future training and simulation solutions. The Training and Simulation ecosystem also includes foreign firms with Canadian operations that have training and simulation capabilities such as C4i Training, TRU Simulation, Lockheed Martin, Thales, Babcock and General Dynamics Mission Systems Canada. Bluedrop, for instance, has been building training for the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS), while RaceRocks has deployed a Future Naval Training System at sea aboard the MV Asterix and provided Technology Enabled Learning (TEL) for the RCN’s amalgamated MARTEC trade. Victoria-based Iris Dynamics uses magnet-field manipulation for motion platforms and force feedback in joy sticks, yokes and flight pedals. Iris’ field manipulation is software not hardware-driven, requires less power, is less costly than servos or hydraulics, and has no friction or wear and tear. Halifax-based Modest Tree uses VR with MANN on AOPS and with Flightpath for maintenance training. And New Brunswick’s Kognitiv Spark has its Mixed Reality Remote Assistant Support (MIRRAS) system, a project that aims to improve maintenance and repairs aboard active naval vessels.
The distant future is anyone’s guess, I picture the holodeck onboard the starship Enterprise or the immersive world of Ender’s Game, but what do I know? I asked this question to a few visionary’s in industry and received the following predictions.
“Ten years ago, the tools that enable what Iris does today did not exist, or if they did, they were not accessible to any but the largest of organizations. Today we spend pennies for silicon, whose functionality used to cost tens of thousands of dollars per unit. Tools that used to take a career to learn and had an annual license fee equivalent to that of a house have been fundamentally replaced by cloud software that costs less per day than a cup of coffee and can be learned “good enough” watching YouTube tutorials. Unlike technology advances of the past 100 years, the advancements we are likely to see in the next decade are going to be significant enough to be comparable to the social impacts seen during the Industrial Revolution. The proliferation of IOT devices, AI, robotics, 2D materials, and AR/VR are likely to have profound impacts on people who have already been born. The only sure thing I’m comfortable in predicting is that now would be a good time to put your seatbelt on.”
– Patrick McFadden, CEO Iris Dynamics
“This may be a blinding statement of the obvious, but the trend line that I see is a merging or convergence of the LVC taxonomy, to the point where the lines between them largely disappear and become irrelevant and more reflective of real-life complexity and operating environments. More specifically, in the land-tactical environment, gone will be the stand-alone virtual trainers for specific weapon, sensor, communications or vehicle systems without any connection to the dynamic and complex battlespace environment around the trainee. Similarly, battle command training today via constructive simulation methodologies – while effective at honing staff processes and procedures, and notwithstanding the many advances in AI and Monte Carlo-like probability models – is largely still sterile, without real human interactions that can better come from the live and virtual simulation worlds where real humans are imposing a higher fidelity of fog and friction to the training environment. So, it’s a paradox: the more real environments and real humans are brought into the loop within a synthetic environment, the more training value is realized out of synthetic training.”
– Rick Bowes, CD, MA, MBA, Cardinal Defence Consulting Inc.
“We’ve always believed that learning should be entertaining and aligned with the way people think, work, and play. I predict that AR/VR/MR will let us achieve this over the next decade. A learner will not know the difference between a training environment and their actual occupation once immersed in VR, and their learning will follow them into the field with AR and MR. I just hope that future generations will not know a classroom or a PowerPoint computer-based training module”
– Scott Dewis, CEO RaceRocks
When I look at two other businesses in the tech space that I have followed, I see a near future capability: embedded, real-time training in the most basic pair of eye glasses.
An industrial software company from Ottawa, contextere, has coined the term “Blue Collar AI™,” bridging the world from hardware (e.g. the Focals smart glasses) to software, and ultimately automated predictions for on-going on-site training with their “intelligent guidance” and other contextually important information. I see a near future merging of a product like Focals with contextere’s AI and RaceRocks’ creative training solutions as an interesting collaboration that could happen anytime now, should this industry and government embrace further collaboration with the sector and buying from Canadian SMEs.