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Entertainment and Military Collaboration Can Reap Benefits for Both
The entertainment industry and the Department of Defense (DOD) -- although differing widely in their motivations, objectives, and cultures -- share a growing interest in computer-based modeling and simulation. In entertainment, these technologies helped revive the U.S. animation industry and now drive multi-billion-dollar markets in video games, film, virtual reality attractions, and theme parks. For the military, modeling and simulation provide a cost-effective means of training troops, evaluating military doctrine and tactics, and assessing the effectiveness of new weapons systems.
Both the military and the entertainment industry can benefit from greater cooperation in developing such technologies, if significant differences in business practices and cultures can be overcome, says a new report from a National Research Council committee. Collaborating in research and development ventures, sharing research results, and fostering ongoing research and training programs may help both communities.
While virtual reality games and military training simulations serve entirely different purposes, they pose similar technical challenges. Both rely on advances in three-dimensional graphics systems that allow multiple players to interact simultaneously. The military already has linked thousands of participants in a single training exercise and is working on systems for much larger exercises. Likewise, game companies offer an increasing number of fast-action video games online for dozens of players at a time and are seeking ways to increase capabilities to handle hundreds or even thousands of players simultaneously.
Collaboration could help both communities make better use of their limited resources. Doing so would be more effective in the early stages of research when they share similar objectives, the report says, rather than in the creation of end products, which tend to be very different. Concentrating on research also helps alleviate proprietary concerns related to intellectual property. The report identifies the following research areas that hold the greatest promise for collaboration:
> Virtual reality technologies. Both communities seek improvements in virtual reality systems that would create more realistic simulated experiences for users. Enhancements are needed in technologies to improve the user's ability to see, hear, and touch in virtual environments.
> Technologies for networked simulations. Whether operating an online video game for hundreds of players or a worldwide training exercise for thousands of soldiers, a key challenge is ensuring that communication between many players can occur quickly and reliably. The entertainment industry and the military both are interested in developing technologies to improve quality of service, minimize message traffic on networks, and eliminate or compensate for delays experienced when messages travel between players.
> Standards for networked simulator systems. Seamlessly linking many computer simulator systems, each composed of many different types of software and hardware, is a formidable task. Both communities are developing networked simulation systems, but little research has been done to address the basic issues of standards for network software. Although DOD has adopted a standard architecture for ensuring that networked systems can work together, it is not clear whether commercial industry will follow suit. Nevertheless, a carefully considered joint research program in this area might benefit both the entertainment industry and DOD.
> Computer-generated characters. Because computer characters currently have limited scripted responses, games or training simulations can soon become predictable and dull. Building additional intelligence into these systems opens a new realm of possibilities. In strategy games, for example, "smarter" computer opponents could learn how different players operate, and adapt their game plans accordingly.
> Tools for creating simulated environments. Virtual reality programs are supported by large databases that contain information for describing three-dimensional objects, buildings, terrain, and other imagery. A DOD simulator for training military units to free hostages, for example, requires not only information to depict realistic scenarios, but also multiple perspectives of the interior and exterior layouts of hundreds of actual buildings worldwide, such as U.S. embassies. Current hardware and software applications to create and manipulate large databases are expensive and difficult to learn. Developing better tools is imperative for building databases and for enabling users to modify rapidly simulated environments.
Expanding cooperation in these areas will require concerted efforts to bridge the gaps between entertainment and defense, the report says. Few workers currently migrate between the two industries, and little information is shared. Business practices, capabilities, and objectives are also different. Whereas the military's research and development efforts are well funded (by the entertainment industry's standards), meticulously planned, and forward-looking, the industry's efforts are diverse, fast paced, and market oriented. Nevertheless, these differences, if overcome, could spur innovative research strategies and technologies.
In the meantime, the report notes, DOD and the entertainment industry can work to their mutual benefit by fostering multidisciplinary educational programs to train students in subjects needed to create simulated environments, and by supporting university research in related areas. Both communities currently draw from this common pool of resources to advance their individual objectives.
The report is based on a workshop that convened modeling and simulation experts from the U.S. military and leaders from the entertainment industry. The project was funded by DOD's Defense Modeling and Simulation Office. The National Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, non-profit institution that provides science advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.
Copies of Modeling and Simulation: Linking Entertainment and Defense are available from the National Academy Press for $29.00 (prepaid) plus shipping charges of $4.00 for the first copy and $.50 for each additional copy; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain copies from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above.)
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications
Computer Science and Telecommunications Board
Committee on Modeling and Simulation:
Opportunities for Collaboration Between the Defense and Entertainment Research Communities
Michael Zyda (chair)
Department of Computer Science
Naval Postgraduate School
School of Art and Design, and
Associate Director for Technologies
School of Art
University of Illinois
Manager of Product Strategy
Light Client Division
Mountain View, Calif.
Spectrum HoloByte Inc.
Research and Development
Associate Professor of Computer Science and Human-Computer Interaction
Carnegie Mellon University
Independent Producer and Director
Chief Creative Officer
Virtual World Entertainment Inc.
RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF
Jerry R. Sheehan