Award-winning app boosts unmanned aircraft training


By SOFIA BLEDSOE PEO Aviation Public Affairs

Unmanned aircraft systems operators now have the option to train anywhere, anytime and in real time without having to sit in a classroom or be co-located with the other UAS operator.

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office, together with their industry partners at Camber Corporation based out of Huntsville, have developed an application that eliminates the need for UAS operators to train at the pace of a scheduled training event. They now also have the ability to conduct collective training from different locations.

Dubbed Eagle Eye, the new device agnostic training app allows Soldiers to conduct individual or collective training from anywhere in the world using their personal computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone. The team recently won the Inter-service/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference award for Best Serious Game in the Mobile Category and the coveted People’s Choice Award.

Last year the team won for Best New Mobile App Game and was the People’s Choice Award winner.

“The game is comprised of doctrinal material, which then serves as a basis for a three-stage game,” said Maj. Adam Samiof, assistant product manager for Shadow Tactical UAS. He explained that initially, users of the app learn about reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition based from Army manuals. “One of the advantages of this game is it is available whenever a Soldier wants to train and hone his or her skills. A Soldier doesn’t have to wait for a scheduled training event in the future to train on this particular topic.”

The idea for the game originated from PM UAS’s engagements with the schoolhouse and with units in the field where Samiof said Soldiers were asking for this type of training technology. “We always want to know where additional training resources are needed and promote aviation rigor as UAS continues to be added to aviation formations,” he said.

Jeremy Reddoch, operations manager for Camber Corporation, said the team’s focus over the last two years has been on creating training applications with like technology, such as iPhones with iPhones or PCs with other PCs. “Now, with technology improving, Soldiers can play the training application with other players using different technology devices,” Reddoch said. “And since you are not bound to the classroom, Soldiers can hone their training skills while they’re sitting in a bunk waiting for their next assignment.”

Speaking from his experience as a former Soldier and UAS operator, James Thompson, now the project lead for Camber, said there were periods of time when he was not able to fly and train with the aircraft whenever he was in garrison. “I wish we had this training technology back then – something that you can still do while you’re waiting to conduct that tactical training,” Thompson said. “This is the kind of stuff we were looking for, that we wished we had three or four years ago. Now the Soldiers are getting it.”

The application is in use at the 2-13th Aviation Regiment, the schoolhouse for UAS training at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Much of this past year’s efforts were geared toward institutional training at the schoolhouse, Samiof said. “The IMI and game have also been uploaded to the Army’s gaming website, enabling anyone with CAC privileges to access the content and download for training.”

Samiof and his team are pursuing a new effort with multiplayer, manned-unmanned teaming gaming, incorporating the different roles from Gray Eagle, Apache, Shadow UAS and the One System Remote Video Terminal to link the different players together in one virtual environment.

“Our prime focus for this year’s efforts is on manned-unmanned teaming or MUMT,” Samiof said. The team is using the same combination of doctrinal material with a gaming feature to reinforce the content. “We are trying to see if we can produce a multiplayer game which would allow unmanned and manned users to play the same game at the same time and practice their TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) in this venue,” Samiof said. “MUMT is one of the most exciting force multipliers talked about by our Army today and the quicker we master its application, the further advantage we will have over our adversaries.”

Today’s generation of Soldiers are gamers, and UAS Project Office’s goal is to push the limits and move the technologies to the next level instead of relying on legacy type of training. “How to train today’s 18 to 20-year-old UAS operators who are used to and have been exposed to this type of environment on a daily basis – this is what we’ve been hired to do to help the Army,” said Duane Crawford, one of the team members and program manager for Camber.

The app is also capable of a multiplayer environment, which means Soldiers can add more players at any given time of the training scenario. If additional players came on at a later time, the app would simply create a second environment. “You select the role that you want, you get up to speed on what the current situation is, and then you start,” Reddoch said. “You just have to communicate what you want or plan to do.”

The IMI and game took 12 months to develop, according to Samiof. Multiple members of the program office participated during the development, and Camber personnel were the lead developers. “All team members have a significant amount of military service as the basis of their knowledge and expertise,” Samiof said. “Our goal was to provide the Soldier different options to accomplish their training mission.”

Samiof envisions the expanded use of immersive technology as the future for training, and would encompasses virtual reality and holographic technologies. “Right now we use computers/tablets to enable the Soldier to interact with their environment,” he said. “In the future, with more affordable virtual reality devices (e.g. Oculus), the Soldier will be completely immersed in this virtual environment. This will remove some of the physical requirements for training areas and training devices. Without the need for bulky TADSS, a Soldier could put their virtual reality device on in any setting and be able to interact with that virtual environment.”

Put simply, there would be no need for an aircraft to practice maintenance tasks. The aircraft would be virtual.

Other platforms can also benefit from the app, Samiof said, since the doctrinal material which serves as the basis for the lessons before the game is the same for manned aviation. “The only detractor is that the game uses a UAS as the airframe for demonstrating the principles learned previously,” he said.

The repeat of the wins solidifies that the team is moving its training in the right direction, according to Reddoch. “It is pretty amazing to see how much technology has evolved from when we won GORDEE to now with Eagle Eye,” Reddoch said. In just one year, Reddoch said the technology alone probably increased by about 500 percent. “What we’re able to bring to the war fighter in terms of enhanced graphics and training, enhanced visual feedback and after action report – all dramatically increased.”

This is the second straight year the team has submitted and won at I/ITSEC for these two categories.