By Terri Bernhardt

IST Three Decades
University of Central Florida’s (UCF) Institute for Simulation and Training (IST) celebrated thirty years of achievement in simulation training in mid-October by inviting the community, industry and government to explore their labs within Partnership II and Partnership III buildings in Research Park. Although the IST program opened in 1982, seeds were planted in the mid-60’s following the relocation of the Navy and Army. Twenty years later, the need for such a program came to life putting UCF on the map with one of the first ever Modeling and Simulation (M&S) graduate programs in the United States. By the end of this year more than 200 Master’s and 50 PhD degrees will have been awarded.

UCF didn’t become the “Godfather of academic M&S” overnight nor did IST’s M&S research grow without hurdles, bumps in the road and funding challenges. One of IST’s biggest obstacles has been the need for more space. Their first headquarters was in a trailer on UCF grounds with research conducted in other campus buildings. Their move to the Research Pavilion in 1988 allowed them room to acquire two Army tank simulators (on loan) and gave IST its first real opportunity to show off its research facility to a larger audience. Since then, the IST departments have established residence in the Partnership buildings, around campus and other business buildings.

Dr. Randy Shumaker became IST’s Director in 2002 bringing 30 years of experience in engineering, specifically computer engineering. His leadership elevated the IST program into a truly multidisciplinary institute. Today the program stands proud with over $16.7 million in contracts and grants with a staff of more than 250 covering 80,000 square feet of well utilized space.

The half-day event honoring 30 years of success consisted of live demonstrations in their performance labs with hands-on games and small lectures from experts in the areas of mobile, medical, robotics and multicultural studies. In the METIL (Mixed Emerging Technology Integration Lab), Dr. David Metcalf demonstrated a medical (virtual patient) game that is being used at the UCF College of Medicine that consists of a fictitious family ranging from infant to 64 years old. Each member of the family has a strong medical history. “This family is the sickest family in Central Florida,” boasts Dr. Metcalf. “They have every type of medical symptom we can think of on their charts. Our job is to help heal them by going back in their records and taking information we know and documenting it for further exploration.” Different scenarios take place during the course of the game. For example, you can set up a phone call to your mobile phone from the virtual patient. “When you answer the call the patient explains what is going on,” explains Dr. Metcalf. “You might hear them cough, or the strain in their voice, and you have to look up their record to try and help them.” This game can be played on all mobile platforms.

“Robots from Tools to Teammates” allowed visitors a sneak peek at soldier robotics training. It was explained that humans, in general, have unrealistic expectations of a robot’s abilities. Humans tend to under or over estimate the capabilities of a robot. This program first demonstrates to the trainee the exact level of intelligence and abilities of these robots. They are not on a human level so the program has named them “working dogs.” This allows a more realistic picture of the robots’ expectations during training. The future goal of this program is to provide the robot the ability to learn and move toward more human like characteristics.

Other labs worth mentioning are the Interactive Realities Laboratory that include virtual and augmented reality research, Human Systems Integration Research, ACTIVE Lab (Applied Cognition and Training Immersive Virtual Environments — investigating how distributed training systems can be evaluated for effectiveness and usability, Stokes High Performance Computing Center, E2i Creative Studio (Synthetic Reality Lab), SimMBIOS Lab (Simulations for Mathematical and Biological Inspired Systems), RAPTER, Human performance measurement at the MIT2 Lab, Cognitive Sciences, Medical Emergencies Simulation, and RETRO (digital media working on serious games research).

Moving forward, just as Orlando is recognized as the highest concentration of simulation and training in the nation, UCF’s IST continues to lead the way with M&S research for training and education. www.ist.ucf.edu