Virtual is Reality: Natick aims to help subject matter experts see big picture

Mary Giacalone, an NSRDEC program analyst (left) and Rick Haddad, co-lead for the Force Protection, Soldier and Small Unit, Science and Technology Objective Demonstration, work on early deliverables on a virtual demonstrator, which is part of a much larger, Army-wide, Soldier System Engineering Architecture effort. (U.S. Army photo by David Kamm)

Mary Giacalone, an NSRDEC program analyst (left) and Rick Haddad, co-lead for the Force Protection, Soldier and Small Unit, Science and Technology Objective Demonstration, work on early deliverables on a virtual demonstrator, which is part of a much larger, Army-wide, Soldier System Engineering Architecture effort. (U.S. Army photo by David Kamm)

By Jane Benson, NSRDEC Public Affairs

Natick researchers are creating a virtual world to provide an accurate, instant and interactive snapshot of the Soldier and his or her equipment.

With optimal performance in mind, Rick Haddad and the Soldier Capabilities Integration Team from the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center are working to ensure the Soldier and equipment work together in concert.

“We developed a likely task scenario environment that a Soldier or squad would be operating in and took every protection project and found where it most likely would have value to the warfighter within the scenario,” Haddad said. “We created a visual where people could see how their project fits in the operational environment and how it works with other products.”

The team created a virtual demonstration of 77 projects. In the long-term, Haddad said he hopes the virtual demonstration will spark the development of a web-based interactive tool that will extend across Army Science and Technology to make products for the Soldier more compatible and enhance Soldier performance.

By making subject matter experts aware of this novel demonstration methodology, researchers hope  others within the Army S&T community will get involved and provide information about their own projects.

The virtual demonstrator increases SME awareness of where Soldier products fall in the big scheme of things, where a product lies in the execution of a Soldier’s mission, and how different components need to work together.

Scientists, engineers and other subject matter experts will ultimately be the users who will interface with a data architectural environment, so getting their input now is crucial. The virtual demonstrator is part of a much larger, Army-wide, Soldier System Engineering Architecture effort.

Natick’s focus areas include the Combat Feeding Directorate, Warfighter Directorate, Aerial Delivery Directorate and the Expeditionary Basing and Collective Protection Directorate, which Haddad said makes NSRDEC a good starting point for the virtual demonstration. Each area has a role spanning across warfighter missions, from the base camp to the complex area of operation.

“We are the Soldier domain,” said Mary Giacalone, an NSRDEC program analyst who is working with Haddad on early deliverables.  “We’re here to support the needs and requirements of the Soldier.”

When looking at the Soldier as a system, experts at NSRDEC recognize that not only is the sum greater than all the parts, the parts need to work together seamlessly in order for the nation’s warfighters to be at their very best.

Currently, Army scientists and engineers develop Soldier equipment to enable Soldiers to reach optimal performance. Sometimes, it is hard to know what researchers in other areas have developed, and this can lead to unforeseen compatibility problems or to the Soldier’s load becoming too heavy, Haddad said.

“Even a pound, when multiplied over the course of a mission, can have a tremendous impact on Soldier performance, depending on the task he or she is asked to execute,” he said.

The team is working to make information accessible, sortable and leverageable. The demonstrator features clickable panels to navigate a mission and the necessary technologies to support that portion of the mission. Down the road, this information will be available via website.

“It’s an integrated approach,” Haddad said. “We need to develop tools that enable consideration of the Soldier, the equipment and the task.”

The goal is to see projects laid out from the base-camp-planning phase to the mission-execution phase and every step in between.

“Operational context is important,” he said. “Good science doesn’t always equal good outcome. This project will help our scientists, engineers and user community partners become more aware of the operational impact of our proposed capabilities that we want to deliver to the warfighter. We want to get people onboard with shaping their future computing environment, their future database experience.

“If we have their input, we will have a better user interface. We want it to get to the point where someone can type in, for example, ‘protection for the torso,’ and several material and nonmaterial solutions that need to be taken into consideration will pop up,” he said. “That’s where we hope to get to.”

Haddad and Jaclyn Fontecchio are co-leads for the Force Protection, Soldier and Small Unit, Science and Technology Objective Demonstration.

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This article appears in the May/June 2015 issue of Army Technology Magazine, which focuses on Future Computing. The magazine is available as an electronic download, or print publication. The magazine is an authorized, unofficial publication published under Army Regulation 360-1, for all members of the Department of Defense and the general public.

The Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness–technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment–to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.