Sunday, September 13, 2020

With This VR System, The Indian Air Force Signals Intent To Get Real With Virtual

Virtual Reality Headset - Indian Air Force - Training - 01


Advancements in algorithm & hardware computational power has us approaching a trifecta where the distinction between self, real & virtual is amalgamating into a seamless blend. This convergent life is increasingly marking it's presence in a myriad of ways, both, positive & otherwise. With an eye on the former, the Indian Air Force [IAF] is moving towards a tighter embrace with the Virtual.

VR Simulator - Indian Air Force - IAF - Electrical And Instrumentation Training Institute - 01

The IAF's Electrical & Instrumentation Training Institute [E&ITI] has put out a notice seeking bidders, who can supply a Virtual Reality [VR] Simulator system for the organization. The keyword here being 'a'. More on that later. Based at the Air Force Station Jalahalli, E&ITI is responsible for the training of IAF's Ground Technicians in functions of Electrical & Instrumentation. They would, then, be involved in the upkeep of the IAF's numerous Aircraft & Missiles, arriving at the Maintenance Units & Base Repair Depot [BRD].

As per the document, the selected system "should be capable to capture and create Virtual Reality (VR) training modules with ease" and should be able to "publish across various platforms such as Android, Samsung gear VR, Web, HTC Vive, Occulus Rift and Occulus Go etc.".

Augmenting the Virtual Reality would be an integration with Augmented Reality [AR], as the IAF would like,

"to improve VR experience by linking external media anywhere in the scene such as -

(I) Addition of text

(ii) Addition of images (formats like JPEG, PNG, GIF etc.)

(iii) Addition of audios in the form of Human voice over/ music(formats like mp3, wav etc.)

(iv) Addition of videos (formats like mp4, avi, flv etc.)

(v) Addition of presentation/ webpages.".

Incorporating a VR setup in the training regime opens the door to some unique benefits. The accuracy and detailing of the VR world is a function of the software render & the hardware deployed to crunch numbers. A look at the hardware specs E&ITI specifies - 16 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, Intel Core i3 Processor is, in fact, inferior to what an average 2019 Desktop PC build would constitute - that PC now has 32 GB of RAM. Point being, even with what it is specifying, it would meet objectives.

The VR's simulator's immersive environment would provide the trainee with a controlled, controllable & dynamic space, within which the individual can safely acquire & sharpen skills.

Imagine, the morning batch of ground technicians learns how to overhaul an Al-31P Turbofan Engine, that powers IAF's Sukhoi Su-30 MKI. A change to the software module & the same VR setup, in the afternoon teaches another batch the ins & outs of the Snecma M88-2 Powerplant, equipping the Rafale. Yet another scenario, Technicians learning about maintaining Aircraft Landing Gear could do so in a more realistic scenario. A slip-up, within the VR environment, could trigger a virtual Hydraulic Oil spurt, without suffering the real-world decapitating effect of it's high pressure & temperature. Integrating olfactory triggers could release scent of Valvoline Hydraulic Oil, to add to the realism.

The Armée de l'Air et de l’Espace Française has implemented a regime to leverage the use of VR in Maintainers training. The training curriculum at Dassault's facilities at Bordeaux-Mérignac uses a custom solution based on the Oculus Rift Headset, in which,

"an instructor together with up to ten trainees can inspect a complete colour coded Rafale in virtual reality, where it is possible to move around freely and look at the components being discussed, without being restricted by the size of how many pairs of eyes can look through an open maintenance hatch at the same time. Being able to pass through structures and look at how different components connect together to form the complete system is also a significant benefit".

The system also senses limbic motion, which the system translates into corresponding action in the VR visualisation.

An Indian Contingent of Pilots & Ground Crew are presently deputed to France, acquiring proficiency handling the Rafale. Strong possibility that, having experienced the benefits it brings to the table, first hand, a similar advantage, it seeks to replicate here for other platforms. The current call is, in fact, the second such initiative from E&ITI. On December 31, 2019, it had raised a similar call. Didn't receive a satisfactory response. it would appear.

Indian Army - Firearms Simulator - 01

Use of Simulators have long been part of the training regime in India. Simulator firing ranges, used by the BSF & other organizations, ensure that personnel can hone skills virtually, unencumbered by constraints of space or depletion of consumable stock.

The Indian Army [IA] has had a long-pending requirement to implement a customized solution for a 'Virtual Reality Based Training Simulator for Room Intervention/ Urban Warfare'. Such a facility would enable operatives to carry out drills under various conceived Close Quarter Battle [CQB] contingencies. It has thrown down the gauntlet to the Indian private sector to take up this effort. This, the Army Design Bureau has been enumerating in every Problem Definition Statement [PDS] document, starting 2017. Some forward movement here, as the 2020 PDS reports it as, "Being progressed under Paragraph 27 of Chapter II of DPP-16 as an acquisition programmer".

Mahindra Defense Boeing C-17 Flight Simulator - Indian Air Force - 01


Flight Simulators of the IAF help pilots familiarize themselves with the mechanics of the Aircraft & flight handling characteristics, before actually going airborne. It operates dedicated simulators for a wide number of it's Aircraft. It goes without saying, more the training operators receive away from the real thing, greater would be it's service life, safer would be it's operation, & also effect cost-savings.

Flight Simulator - LCA Tejas - 01
The Aeronautical Development Agency [ADA] has overseen development of a family of indigenous simulators for the country's own Light Combat Aircraft [LCA] - air combat simulator, system maintenance simulator, mission avionics systems simulator, pilot-in-loop simulator, cockpit environment simulator, research flight simulator. From all accounts, it has a fair way to go, before the realism of it's simulation approaches that of CAE's 7000XR Series or anything Boeing installs.

As per the agreement signed for the 36 Aircraft deal, Dassault would setup flight Simulator facilities for the Rafale at, both, Ambala & Hashimara, staging ground for the first 2 Rafale Squadrons. This is in conformance with India's decision to ensure that, "The procurement of simulators is built into the contracts of all aircraft that the IAF is now procuring. This includes Fixed Base Full Mission Simulators, Cockpit Procedure Trainers, Avionics Part Task Trainer, Flight Training Devices (FTD) and Computer Aided Learning Systems".

Airbus - Full Flight Simulator - Airbus A350 XWB - 01

Present-day simulators are housed within an enormous, cavernous enclosure, atop a Hydraulic/Electro-Pneumatic Actuation Mechanism, that generates haptic feedback, in response to pilot action. The entire cavern serves to project Spatial Awareness for the pilot. It is, therefore, not hard to imagine that, with a VR Headset-based solution, all that Spatial rendering would get compacted into the size of the Headset. VR Technology, today, is still not mature enough to fully replace existing Simulators, but future possibility is a certainty.

India's Manned Space mission, Gaganyaan, would also adopt Virtual Reality [VR] in imparting preliminary, familiarisation training to it's Vyomanauts. The Indian Space Research Organisation [ISRO], this time, last year, issued a solicitation to this effect.

Teserract Virtual Reality Headset - Absentia - 01

In India, Start-ups such as Absentia, Ingage, Blippar, Meraki, Geosys Enterprise, have made note-worthy progress in various aspects of VR. Absentia, for example, has come up with it's own Headset design, it calls Tesseract. Geosys, Blipper, Meraki have been involved in the creation of VR-ready content. The building blocks of an indigenous solution are out there.

The Indian Navy's Directorate of Naval Design commenced operation, last year of a Virtual Reality Centre [VRC], that would aid Warship design. This video, below, gives a quick round-up of how VR technologies, as a design tool, are aiding Designers in their process.

The single Unit buy is the Air Force testing the water, to see how effectively it can incorporate VR Technology in it's current way of things. Once the initial teething issues confronting any new technology, it sorts out, expect it's rollout across a wider spectrum of functions. There is simply no escaping a very real fact that the future is virtual.


Also Read: This Heavily Modded B777-300ER, India's Most Secure Transport Aircraft, Takes-Off Into The Night