November 30th, 2011
The I/ITSEC trade show is underway here in Orlando. This show is dedicated to advanced training applications using simulators for every military and commercial vehicle you can think of, as well as training in virtual environments for dismounted warriors. This is actually a very fun trade show to attend. Where else can I sink a cruise ship before lunch, inspect an oilrig after lunch and refuel an F-16 before dinner?
There is always cutting-edge technology at this show where expensive systems try their hardest to replicate an actual environment to provide the most realistic training possible. One key trend at the show this year is stereoscopic 3D. New, you say? Actually, in the world of simulation, 3D has been rarely used. In many air, ground or water-based platforms, most of the objects are fairly far away from the operator such that stereoscopic cues are not a strong factor in depth perception. Most of the focus on improving these systems has been on increasing the 2D image fidelity with higher resolution, more sophisticated databases, and higher performance visual display systems (more pixels, higher contrast, better blending and warping, etc.)
But there are many applications where stereoscopic cues can be very powerful and potentially enhance the simulation. Examples often cited include aerial refueling, helicopter landings and soldiers or vehicles in close-in urban environments.
JVC was in fact showcasing the aerial refueling application using a 4K projector running in 3D stereoscopic mode. For this application, a boom operator lies down in the tail of the tanker aircraft and guides the boom to the refueling port on the thirsty aircraft. The boom is about 50 feet long and has an aerodynamic stabilizer that is about 10 feet from the tail and 2 feet high. In the 3D demo, we were able to correctly guess these dimensions, an important step in establishing the realism of the simulation. While the demo was quite compelling, actual operators seem to be using more than just good stereo cues to accomplish the job. Therefore, JVC and Rockwell Collins are working to add other monoscopic cues to increase the performance of the operators.
I heard the same comments about helicopter pilots using simulators to land the vehicle. Even with stereo images they still are not getting the same cues and accuracy that they see and achieve in real life.
Christie had a novel collimated 3D display in their booth that combined the ability to create an image at infinity with a stereoscopic effect. This should make viewing 3D content easier on the eyes. The demo was very interesting as it creates a single sweet spot for the user and produced a very good, but not quite great 3D effect. One would think that with the image focused at infinity, there would be no convergence-focus mismatch issues. However, the images still had negative parallax (in front of screen) that did show some ghosting. I had the feeling that I was just a little too close to view the survey of an oilrig platform. Maybe if they shifted it back more for a thru-the-window look, it might have felt a little better.
Another 3D demo I saw was being used to train soldiers on how to use and access predator overhead aerial images to track bad guys and maneuver around them to find, observe or even kill them. The 3D screen was supposed to provide a more realistic simulation. And it did, but not until I worked with the operators to back off on the 3D effect. They had it set so strongly it was painful to watch.
One of my takeaways from all of this was that these developers need to know a lot more about stereo vision and how to create content that varies the stereoscopic parameters as the simulation evolves. This is something Hollywood animation studios know, but the simulation industry does not (hey simulation industry – we can help!).
There were also lots of other very cool demos that were not 3D. I particularly liked Christie's EGG display, which is shaped like a half of an egg with the user sitting in the middle to get a full 180-degree seamless immersion. With eight projectors, this was an incredible display.
I also liked VDC's curved workstation. It uses five 250-lumen LED projectors (from LG), flat mirrors, a curved cylindrical screen and geometry, blending and warping software. Now this is a workstation any of us would envy. VDC hopes they can offer it at a $20K price point.
Another full day tomorrow scoping out new technology and training on all kinds of vehicles. We will have full coverage in January's Large Display Report.
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