Virtually Human: Researchers explore powerful medium for experiential learning

In the Army’s Emergent Leader Immersive Training Environment, or ELITE, soldiers hone their basic counseling skills through practice with virtual humans like virtual Staff Sergeant Jessica Chen.

In the Army’s Emergent Leader Immersive Training Environment, or ELITE, soldiers hone their basic counseling skills through practice with virtual humans like virtual Staff Sergeant Jessica Chen.

By Orli Belman, USC Institute for Creative Technologies

New research aims to get robots and humans to speak the same language to improve communication in fast-moving and unpredictable situations.

Scientists from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies are exploring the potential of developing a flexible multi-modal human-robot dialogue that includes natural language, along with text, images and video processing.

“Research and technology are essential for providing the best capabilities to our warfighters,” said Dr. Laurel Allender, director of the ARL Human Research and Engineering Directorate. “This is especially so for the immersive and live-training environments we are developing to achieve squad overmatch and to optimize Soldier performance, both mentally and physically.”

The collaboration between the Army and ICT addresses the needs of current and future Soldiers by enhancing the effectiveness of the immersive training environment through the use of realistic avatars, virtual humans and intelligent agent technologies, she said.

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Spotlight: Research scientist Peter Khooshabeh

Peter Khooshabeh is an ARL research fellow in ICT’s virtual humans group. His work explores the social effects that virtual humans can have on people in areas including culture, thought and emotion.

By Orli Belman, USC Institute for Creative Technologies

When ICT’s Peter Khooshabeh was an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley he worked on developing a virtual practice tool for surgeons. The idea was that an individual interacting in this simulated scenario would show improved outcomes in the operating room. But when Khooshabeh spent time in a real hospital, he observed that technical skill was just one aspect of surgical success. Any useful virtual environment would also need to capture the interpersonal dynamics of such a high-stress, multi-person setting.

“At first we were focused on putting just one person in this virtual environment but there are many players involved in any given surgery,” Khooshabeh said, a research fellow in ICT’s virtual humans research group. “I came to understand that the key to improving performance may not be in the quality of the technology, but in how much you understand about people and how they perceive one another”.

Khooshabeh went on to earn a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from UC Santa Barbara and continues to leverage technology as a tool to better understand people.

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Back to the Future

Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Ty Carter is scanned in ICT's Light Stage 6, a nine-meter sphere with more than 6,000 LED lights that can recreate a person under any lighting condition. (USC Institute for Creative Technologies)

Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Ty Carter is scanned in ICT’s Light Stage 6, a nine-meter sphere with more than 6,000 LED lights that can recreate a person under any lighting condition. (USC Institute for Creative Technologies)

USC Institute for Creative Technologies brings training of tomorrow to Soldiers today

By Orli Belman, USC Institute for Creative Technologies

At the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, researchers specializing in the art and science of creating an immersive experience work with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to advance interactive simulation-based solutions for training Soldiers, teaching students, treating patients and more.

In 1999, the Army and USC joined together to establish ICT as a University Affiliated Research Center, or UARC, that would combine the creative talents of the film and game industries with world-class university research in engineering, education and cinematic arts. The goal: to make simulations more effective through the study and development of emerging digital technologies and engaging narrative-driven experiences.

Today, transitioned prototypes from this forward-looking lab can be seen throughout the Army, including video games designed to prepare Soldiers in negotiations and stability operations, virtual role players programmed to provide practice in conducting sensitive interviews and virtual reality systems developed to enhance therapies for post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.

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