Editor’s note: Richard Boyd is chief executive officer of 3Dsolve. Prior to co-founding 3Dsolve, Boyd served as the CEO of 3dvillage, Inc. a company he helped found that was acquired in September of 2001.

CARY, N.C. – Multi-user virtual training environments have recently reached a new level of fidelity and affordability that warrants immediate attention from anyone with mission-critical training requirements.

3Dsolve has recently completed a complex, high fidelity computer-generated engine room for a naval vessel, permitting five engineers and an instructor to rehearse every conceivable situation a trainee might encounter in the engine room. What state of the art flight simulators are to today’s airplane pilots, DPM-3D is to engineers in naval vessels, power plants or any environment where timely operation of complex machinery is critical.

Virtual simulation can be traced to the first Link Trainer, demonstrated in 1929. Flight simulation technology evolved rapidly as the positive results from such simulators became known. The reason flight simulators have been so successful is because of their virtue as a safe place to practice encounters with situations a pilot in a real aircraft may never encounter in real life. It is also more affordable than committing an expensive aircraft to training time, not to mention avoiding the risk of losing a multi-million dollar aircraft.

In fact, Boeing studies have shown that pilots trained in simulators and live cockpits have a higher readiness level than pilots trained for the same number of hours in a live cockpit. Real world experience is actually inferior to live and virtual training experience. It is even possible today to receive training credits in an FAA Level D flight simulator to become type-rated to fly a new but similar type of aircraft with zero flight time.

This astonishing fact is due to the simulator’s capability to allow the pilot to practice encountering difficult and dangerous situations that may “ideally” never arise in that pilot’s career. The high fidelity available in high-end trainers today also makes the experience incredibly realistic.

Multi-user virtual environments, or MUVEs, have in the last two years combined a number of technical developments that have overcome barriers and afford new opportunities for realistic training exercises. An FAA level D flight simulator is required to have at least 1,000 polygons to represent the equipment accurately. With a standard Pentium 4 laptop from Dell today and the DPM-3D, MUVEs can easily represent 500 times this amount of detail while allowing dozens of participants to practice coordinated tasks collaboratively in the space.

Connection with rules-based engines or artificial intelligence systems that reproduce human and machine behavior in a non-linear way mean those realistic scenarios need not be pre-scripted. Interaction in the environment is now completely realistic except for the tactile element. Even the sense of touch can be replicated reasonably well with the addition of certain peripherals.

DPM-3D supports thousands of dynamic and interactive objects including: switches, gauges, valves, indicator lights, as well as ambient and directional sounds of specific equipment (e.g. pumps, filters, generators, alarms).

A sample interaction might involve one team member turning on a series of pumps (by simply clicking on the switches in a virtual control panel), while another opens and closes a series of simulated valves (by clicking and dragging the handles to rotate) to direct the water flow of the cooling system to the appropriate power equipment. Another team member can watch the pressure and temperature gauges dynamically update as the changes are made and the system responds. By working together, the team is able to achieve the desired outcome – preventing the system from overheating. All the while, the instructor is able to walk around the team members, observing their actions and interactions – as a visible or invisible avatar.

In the previous scenario, every time a team member interacts with the equipment a message is sent from our immersive 3D environment to the existing Dynamic Plant Model (DPM). The DPM then processes how the real system would respond, and sends the resulting data back to the 3D scene – updating the gauges and indicator lights in real-time.

Due to the architecture of DPM-3D, the 3D environment is flexible for ease of updating and maintenance as the real system and DPM simulator evolves. In addition, each object within the scene can connect to any appropriate simulation system or behavior set – adding to the level of collaboration and interaction.

Despite the fact that the DPM-3D is designed to operate on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, the level of detail in DPM-3D is much higher than what is experienced in most gaming environments. The details are such that you can see what type of screwdriver or tool is needed to remove a particular panel or fastener. The needles of the gauges are actual geometry in the scene, which are dynamically rotated to match the readings or levels provided by the DPM. There are over 500,000 polygons within the 3D scene, and in all 700,000 polygons when including characters and special effects.

The special effects include an electrical fire and a high-pressure hydraulic leak. These allow the instructor and team practice various emergency exercises that would be too costly to replicate in a physical environment due to the inevitable damage to equipment and personnel.

DPM-3D can be applied to any simulation environment that involves a high level of collaboration with extensive equipment requirements, and are often managed from within a control room. Some example applications of DPM-3D include:

• Power Generation, Storage, and Distribution Facilities
• Telecommunication Systems
• Production Facilities (oil and gas refineries; chemical/pharmaceutical; food industry; steel production)
• Assembly Plants / Factories (auto/machine manufacturers; electronic manufacturers; product manufacturers)
• Public Safety, Transportation & Traffic Management (airports – air traffic control; seaports – vessel traffic; railways; government/military facilities and transportation systems)

(For more about DPM-3D, see 3Dsolve’s Web site.)