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6/8/2010
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Army To Develop Virtual World For Training

A Second Life-like environment will simulate military peacekeeping operations and act as a training ground for soldiers.

Taking a page out of the Second Life playbook, the U.S. Army is looking to build a broad-scale virtual world to simulate some of its peacekeeping operations and act as a training ground for soldiers.

In a request for information posted on FedBizOpps.gov, the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Simulation and Technology Training Center details a complex architecture for a virtual world it's seeking a system integrator to build.

The world is meant to be similar to a massively multiplayer online gaming environment like Second Life, supporting thousands of avatars and connections at once. The avatars will be equipped with artificial intelligence and will move and interact in a terrain similar to Earth, according to the ROI. It should allow for the administration of various training scenarios that users can react to in real time.

The world should simulate weather as it happens on Earth and allow people playing to have multiple views of their actions in it, including one that allows them to look at the terrain as they would through the scope of a weapon.

As in Second Life, people controlling avatars will be able to communicate via instant messaging. They also should be able to communicate through voice connections, according to the ROI.

The ROI is not the first time a U.S. military branch has expressed interest in using a massive virtual environment for training or simulation purposes. In 2008 the Air Force set up MyBase -- a simulated Air Force base -- in Second Life.

The Army has been exploring a range of new technologies to enhance soldier training and existing field and administrative operations. As part of a pilot project called Connecting Soliders to Digital Applications, the Army has given soldiers smartphones -- including iPhones and Droids -- loaded with mobile applications for, among other things, training, field engagement, and back-office functions.

In the ROI, the Army outlined a three-year schedule for development and deployment of the virtual environment.

Its initial capabilities in the first two years should include the ability to "ingest and maintain correlation with tactical terrain data, artificially intelligent agents with basic scripting control, and external real-time data visualization capability," according to the ROI. The environment should be able to support 10,000 active users during this phase.

Further out in the second to third year of development, the Army wants the environment to support live data from external sensors and GPS, as well as new as-yet-undetermined capabilities, as appropriate.

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