Army Uses Hollywood Technique to Test Soldier-Equipment Interactions
(Source: U.S Army; issued May 7, 2015)
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. --- The Army is using a Vicon-infrared, marker-tracking system to capture performance data of Soldiers using experimental weapons or equipment, John Riedener said.

It is the same technique Hollywood uses to capture live video of people and things and turn that into animation.

Riedener, who spoke during a media day at Picatinny Arsenal, May 4, is director of the Target Behavioral Response Laboratory. The lab evaluates Soldier performance with new systems the Army is developing. It is a unique, one-of-a-kind Army lab.


Perhaps the best way to explain how it works would be to provide a real example of a recent test, Riedener said.

A gunner protection kit was being prototyped and engineers needed Soldiers to test it, he said, standing beside the kit, which was mounted on a platform in the middle of the room.

So, a call was placed with U.S. Forces Command, asking for Soldiers who had just returned from theater and had extensive experience in patrolling and were seasoned gunners. We wanted Soldiers, who were familiar with weapons and real-world experiences, to provide the evaluations, he said.

Once the Soldiers arrived, they were suited up in whatever they would normally wear on patrol and were given a normal pre-patrol briefing of where they had to go, what they had to do, intelligence and so forth, he said. That was to get them in the right frame of mind.

The only thing different about their helmets and uniforms was that reflective dots and tape were affixed to various parts of the fabric and even the weaponry and kit. The Vicon tracking system's infrared camera sensors follow those reflective points to track speed, location and motion in the x, y and z axis, Riedener said.

Then the Soldiers moved out on patrol. They were not actually moving, but a wrap-around-the-walls animated display made it look like they were - with enemy lurking in the shadows, who actually fire paint balls at the Soldiers, minus the paint.

That wrap-around display was created in Picatinny by the Gaming and Interactive Technology Multimedia Group, Riedener said. They created deserts, towns and other simulated environments.

Soldiers fire their laser-equipped weapons at the enemy, Riedener said, and when hit, the enemy acts appropriately, falling down dead or spinning around if hit in the arm, for example.

All those interactions are captured as data, which can also be played back in 2- and 3-dimensional animation. But the data itself is statistically analyzed to check for such things as how long it took the gunner to get into position in the new gunner kit, latency time to hitting targets and so on. Given enough trials and enough Soldiers, the data can provide statistical significance on whatever is being tested, Riedener said.

Each Soldier is also interviewed. They are asked about the design of the kit and what they like and did not like, he said. So for example, if they want a better view, plywood from the kit would be removed and an extra window added. Or, a particular control could be moved to a place, where a Soldier said he felt more comfortable using it.

Since it is just a mockup, it is easy to rearrange things the way they like and the way that the Vicon system shows them to be the most effective.

Remember, this is the absolute earliest stages of development, Riedener said. Once a system is fully tested here, it is later tested at places including Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

This lab saves the Army a lot of time and expense in eliminating poor design characteristics and improving on the good ones before they make it to Aberdeen, he said. And since all of the engineers are right here in Picatinny, they can make rapid changes to the design, right on the spot.

Human factors engineers, from the arsenal, are also on-hand to evaluate the data and to ensure the design setup is optimal from a human-machine interface perspective.

Riedener said that the lab is used for development and testing, not training, and that he is not a training subject-matter expert.

Having said that, he said that all of the Soldiers, who came through, fell in love with the realistic simulation of the lab, even compared with other simulators they have been on throughout the Army.

And, while the data was not used for training purposes, the data did show a dramatic improvement over time in the number of rounds the Soldiers expended, meaning they were becoming more accurate and using fewer rounds to defeat a target, he said. The Soldiers also became very competitive with each other.


Riedener then showed several other testing areas.

A tactical checkpoint test bed was located outside. Tactical checkpoints are manned by Soldiers on roads, where civilian vehicles are stopped and sometimes searched for illegal weapons. However, some vehicles refuse to stop, and Soldiers are sometimes forced to make life or death decisions.

The purpose of the tactical checkpoint test bed, he said, is to find nonlethal ways to stop drivers, who refuse to stop or simply ignore gestures to stop.

A vehicle that looks like a golf cart was used for the testing. A civilian drove the golf cart and researchers at the checkpoint then tried to stop the driver by firing paintballs to obscure the windshield or using lasers to decrease the driver's vision or acoustics to shock him into stopping or slowing down. "Lots of good data was collected," Riedener said.

If this sounds somewhat dangerous to the test subjects, Riedener was quick to point out that before any test can take place, an institutional review board examines everything - from safety to ethical matters.

The board consists of subject-matter experts and others, such as the post chaplain and sergeant major, Riedener said. They examine the risks and benefits of each test.

There is always risk involved with nonlethal weaponry and some form of discomfort, so participants sign a consent form after they are thoroughly briefed, he said. The participants even have to explain the conditions back to the reviewers, so there is full confidence they know what they are getting into, he said.

The civilians from outside the post, who volunteered, are paid very little money for participating, Riedener said. "I think many do it out of patriotism."

Riedener then showed another test area, the Indoor Crowd Test Bed.

It too uses the Vicon method of capturing data, he said, but the test subjects are civilians.

About 20 to 25 civilians are tested in a room the size of a basketball court. They represent a crowd of angry people and the test is about finding the best nonlethal way to stop them, cause them or disperse or go in a different direction, he said.

Although an angry crowd will often be much bigger than 25, that number of people was considered adequate because they were massed in a density similar to a larger crowd, he said.

Since the civilians had nothing to be angry about, a bean bag was set up at the far end of the room and a $5 reward was given to the first people who captured it. That was the reward stimulus to cause them to surge in a particular direction, he said.

Then, various types of nonlethal weapons were used, ranging from medium-range acoustic devices to high-intensity light or soft projectiles.

The Vicon technique captured the effect these devices had on the people, measuring things including crowd density, direction of movement, shape of the crowd and so on, he said. So, if blunt objects, for example, were used, the crowd tended to draw together, because people would hide behind others to avoid getting hit. Other techniques dispersed them.


At the other end of Picatinny sits the Col. John M. McHugh Armaments Integration Facility that houses the Simulated Weapon Environment Testbed, or SWeET.

This is where small-arms and remote weapons systems are tested for the Army and the other services.

Keith Koehler, a mechanical engineer at SWeET, said they are testing a new M320 grenade launcher version that is used on the M4 carbine.

The room that houses the test bed looks very similar to the one that Riedener showed. The difference, Koehler said, is here, the emphasis is on the testing of the weapon itself, while the Target Behavioral Response Laboratory is used for testing human-system interactions.

Here too, sensors and lasers are used for firing the weapon and hitting targets on animated scenes on a wrap-around wall.

Clinton Fischer, an engineer at SWeET, said existing and prototype small-arms weapons are both evaluated here.

If it is an existing weapon, the bolt carrier group and magazine are removed and replaced by a CO2 cartridge, he said. The CO2 cartridge triggers a burst of air to simulate recoil when the weapon is fired. Obviously, different small arms require the use of different CO2 cartridges, since the recoil is different for each.

Prototypes can be something as simple as a plastic weapon printed locally on one of Picatinny's 3-D printers, Fischer said. That allows for really rapid design changes and since all the scientists and engineers are Army personnel, time-consuming contracts don't have to be employed.


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