Magazine article National Defense

Vehicle Design Begins in Virtual Cave

Magazine article National Defense

Vehicle Design Begins in Virtual Cave

Article excerpt

Digital tanks, trucks tested by soldiers before hardware is built

Future generations of U.S. Army vehicles currently are being conceived in what can be described-as a high-tech cave.

This cave is part of a new way of bringing new weapon systems from concept to fullfledged production: in the form of a digital prototype that can be tested and manipulated by soldiers before any hardware is purchased.

During last month's annual convention of the U.S. Army in Washington, D.C., officials from the Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) and the National Automotive Center (NAC) displayed this so-called Computerized Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) and explained how it will make weapon procurement cycles faster and more adaptable to soldiers' real-world needs,

The CAVE is a 10x10x10-foot structure that consists of rear-projected screen walls and a front-projected floor. It has high-resolution, three-dimensional graphics video and audio. Wearing special "stereoscopic" glasses inside a CAVE, the user is immersed into simulated environments ranging from a virtual factory floor to a battle zone. Images appear to float in space.

Army officials deciding how best to design a new tank, for example, can perform "what if" exercises early in the process, where mistakes are less expensive to correct, explains Grace M. Bochenek, the NACs director of advanced visualization and virtual environments lab. "It's real engineering data brought into the virtual environment," she said in an interview during the exhibition. "The critical part is that the user is side by side with the engineer," she said. That means the soldiers can tell the engineers why certain features should be added or discarded from the weapon design blueprint.

The digital environment inside the CAVE is called SimTLC, or simulation throughout the life cycle. The reason for that name, Bochenek said, is that the virtual prototypes of vehicles allow managers to make decisions on the system that will affect its maintenance and performance throughout its entire life.

"The SimTLC environment will promote collaboration between the Army's technical experts" as well, said Paul E Skalny, associate director of the NAC. He pointed out that the SimTLC project is a government-industry partnership where each pays half the costs. The incentive for companies to participate, he said, is the prospect of advancing their own product designs for commercial sales.

Corporate sponsors of SimTLC include high-tech firms such as AB Technologies Inc., Electronic Data Systems, Evans & Sutherland, General Dynamics Information Systems, MindSet Interactive Technologies, Multigen Paradigm Inc. Parametric Technology Corp., SGI and TASC.

"SimTLC is interfacing real soldiers with the acquisition process," related Army Capt. Daniel Ray, who works on tank projects at the Mounted Maneuver Battle Lab, located in Ft. Knox, Ky. The NAC has made the lab a test site for SimTLC experimentation. The CAVE site, said Ray in an interview, will help the Army community investigate how engineering models and simulators can be adapted to various requirements and how data can be reused for the development of trainers.

These technologies currently are being applied-under SimTLC pilot programs-- to improve existing Army vehicle programs such as tactical trucks and the Grizzly mine breacher.

TACOM's research center, known as TARDEC, is working with the University of Iowa and the John Deere company to develop a realistic virtual environment called the Vehicle and Heavy Equipment Virtual Proving Ground. …

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