By Dolly Rairigh Glass
As the military continues to look at the most innovative and cost-effective ways for training their soldiers, they continue their outreach, collaborating with others who have similar needs, and inviting them to leverage both the intellectual and financial investments. One of the prototypes that has seen recent acceptance and use within the community of First Responders is the EDGE Platform, developed by the Army Research Lab (ARL), Human Research and Engineering Directorate (HRED), Simulation and Training Technology Center (STTC) in partnership with TRADOC G2 and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS.)
EDGE is a government owned prototype designed to provide the most realistic virtual environment for training. “We wanted to have a platform in which you could develop whatever environment you want,” said Tami Griffith, Associate Branch Chief, U.S. Army Research Lab Simulation and Technology Training Center. “We (Federal Government) own the source code and can share it with whatever developer we want to expand the functionality. That flexibility is critical.”
Griffith said this ownership gives the government a lot of flexibility with the ability to share it with other federal agencies, and with each share, each agency adds functionality that complements all the sponsors. The premise is that any federal agency can request the use of the platform to develop something specific to their need, and they’ll get all the benefit of the work those before them have accomplished, plus what they developed, because it is incorporated back into the baseline. Any new functionality benefits all system users.
“The whole idea is that we don’t need to keep reinventing the wheel,” said Griffith. “Everybody benefits from the lessons learned, and that means that you can invest a million dollars, but get two million dollars worth of value, and that’s really turning your dollar into more than just your dollar!”
“For example, Department of Homeland Security wants to integrate EDGE with the Oculus Rift (the virtual reality headset worn for immersive gaming),” explained Griffith. “All of us benefit from that. And because we’ve done some preliminary work, they get to leverage what we‘ve done and add whatever additional functionality, so everybody gets that benefit.”
One of the first groups of users to request the training tool outside of the military, was the First Responders, who worked with DHS to utilize EDGE. Through DHS, they wanted to invest in the platform and did. With a minimal investment, they produced what Griffith called an “impressive training.”
Griffith, as well as others representing STTC, traveled to Sacramento to participate in an EDGE training event for First Responders, supported by the Department of Homeland Security. Because of STTC’s extensive experience in simulations and exercise control, they assisted with the training, and helped facilitate the experience to make sure it went flawlessly with regard to important components like IT support, necessary hardware, etc.
“Several agencies participated in this training, including law enforcement, fire and rescue, SWAT and dispatch,” said Jennie Ablanedo, a UCF Institute of Simulation and Training Research Associate for EDGE. “There were intelligent coordinated active shooters who created a scenario that each of the agencies needed to work together to resolve. They have never trained together in one place and the experience gave them a better understanding of the challenges they might face in a real life situation.”
The best part about the virtual environment for training for these first responders is that it’s a safe environment that looks just like their community, and buildings within their community. Through this training, they learn how to work with one another and be better communicators. They learn what works and what doesn’t. They revisit the scenario after, discuss what worked and what didn’t, and through this training have the opportunity to practice until it becomes second nature. This way they are prepared for the experiences they might encounter at a major critical event.
EDGE was designed to be easy to use like the commercial market games, and one of the benefits to EDGE is there is no per seat license, allowing as many people as needed to use the environment at once. Additionally there isn’t a limit on the ownership length of time.
“People from all corners of the world have been reaching out to us and telling us they need this training and they need it now,” Griffith said. “Right now it’s a science and technology prototype, but we’re moving toward the ability to transition it to a training platform that’s readily available. We plan to have the hardware and software ready to deploy by April.”