Ross H. Kukulinski is the Director of Product Development at Advanced Simulation Technology inc. His team works to develop innovative solutions for conventional military and commercial training. Additionally, ASTi's gaming product team builds COTS voice communication and radio simulation for serious games. Prior to his product development role, Ross worked as a project engineer, interfacing with customers and gaining hands-on experience designing full-fidelity sound and communication models for flight simulators. Now, Ross is actively seeking new ways to bridge the gap between higher-fidelity training systems and serious games in the L-V-C environment. Ross earned his B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering with a concentration in embedded real-time systems at Carnegie Mellon University.
A: I think ‘evolved’ is an excellent term to describe the progress military unit-based training has made and continues to make. While modifications to military doctrine occur slower than their commercial counterparts, there have been a number of additions to military training that are saving lives and money. Most notably in my mind is the use of serious games to improve understanding of tactics techniques and procedures (TTPs) for new recruits prior to live training as well as combined arms training. With that said, however, I think it is important to note that serious games will never replace live training – rather serious games can supplement live as a form of blended training.
Q: You specialize in voice communication. Why is this such an important component of a military simulation?
A: I will explore this topic in much greater detail in my talk at the Serious Play Conference, but one of the fundamental requirements for teamwork is effective communication. It is essential that military training simulations include accurate communication modeling to ensure that trainees communicate as they would in the real world. For example, one of the primary duties of a convoy vehicle commander is to relay messages between his vehicle, other vehicles, and the command headquarters. The radio channels tend to be very busy so the commander must quickly determine which information is pertinent to the mission and pass it on as needed. Several instructors have vented their frustration to me regarding the built-in communication systems in many serious games. In these simulations, unlike the real world, all players are on the same voice channel. This means that the commanders are missing out on essential communication practice and this negative training is endangering lives when the commanders are deployed. The instructors simply want a communication system for serious games that models the real world for proper and effective training.
Q: What breakthroughs have been made in communication simulation in recent years?
A: Big-name vendors of voice communication and radio simulation have been providing high-fidelity radio communication for decades. Unfortunately, these capabilities are usually found only in the highest-fidelity training devices such as flight simulators.
What we have seen in recent years, however, is an expansion in the availability of these communication systems in a wide variety of training environments. By replacing expensive hardware-based interfaces with software clients, vendors have found a way to cut costs without sacrificing fidelity. Serious games can now have integrated communication systems that accurately model the real world. Furthermore, due to vendors’ experiences in distributed training exercises, serious games can interact not only with other games, but full-fidelity flight trainers as well as with live training. We call this Live-Virtual-Constructive training.
One of the outcomes of L-V-C exercises is an increase in the number of communicating players. To that end, we have been focusing on the scalability of our systems to support thousands of players using a variety of cloud-inspired techniques as well as innovating new user interfaces such as mobile devices.
Q: Besides military use, where else could this new communication product be used?
A: In commercial markets, these communication systems can be used in a variety of gaming applications, such as MMORPGs and first-person shooter games. Additionally, these systems can be used in any situation where teamwork training is required. For example, medical personnel such as doctors, nurses, and administrators, rely on effective communication to provide outstanding patient care. High-fidelity communication systems are crucial in these non-military games and training scenarios to improve the user experience and further the learning objectives.
Q: What are the challenges to the industry right now?
A: We have seen an uptick in the adoption of serious games for training in the military, but there are still a number of hurdles to overcome. While some commanders are embracing the cost saving and effective training provided by serious games, many still view them as expensive toys. It is important for industry and government to push for games that provide the best training, not ones boasting ultra-realistic graphics. Additionally, we need to take a close look at the training requirements and find one or more games that provide a comprehensive solution. I’m not convinced that a one-size-fits-all serious game will solve the complex training requirements for the military.