By Second Lieutenant David Slatkovsky, EOD Officer of EOD Technologies Department of NATO EOD COE
Today’s world is moving extremely rapidly due to the advancement of various high-level technologies, that improve our lives. The military is one of the fields, where progress is required by the nature of competitiveness and the urge to prevail, as in many cases technological advantage signifies the difference between life and death.
Every part of the military needs to be as effective as possible in order to overcome its adversary. EOD operators’ work is to protect lives and pave the way to victory, therefore it needs to be on par with other military fields in terms of training, knowledge and capabilities.
NATO EOD Centre of Excellence recognized this need and seized the opportunity to create a tool that would address specifically this challenge. We realize that the job of EOD operators is exceptionally demanding, both physically and mentally, and there is a significant lack of modern tools that would ease their preparation and improve their ability to conduct tasks more safely and efficiently.
The EOD/IEDD VR/XR Training and Combat Support Kit, shortly called ETACS, is a project initiated by NATO EOD COE in order to address the training of EOD operators and support them during completion of their tasks. The whole project is divided into two main parts:
- Virtual Reality Training Kit
- Extended Reality Combat Support Kit
Both of these portions, with connection to a new, compatible Explosive Ordnance Database will form a supporting instrument, in the form of an advanced software, which will be beneficial for the whole work of EOD Operators upon successful completion of the project.
WHAT IS VIRTUAL REALITY AND HOW IT CAN SUPPORT THE EOD TRAINING
Virtual reality is the use of computer technology to create simulated environments. It places the user inside a three-dimensional virtual world. Instead of viewing a screen in front of them, users are immersed in and interact with 3D objects. Users’ actions have impact on the computer-generated environment, at least partially. Digital environments reflect real places and exist apart from current physical reality.1
Every EOD operator goes through long, exhausting and demanding training, which requires constant focus, studying, understanding of principles and mechanisms as well as ability to come up with a solution or improvise under pressure. With the necessity to adhere to all these, it may sometimes take enormous effort to be able to handle every aspect of the EOD training flawlessly, which could be refined by using an additional tool, that provides the opportunity to train even in the comfort of an office or home.
The VR Training Kit will allow exactly that. The main goal however, is to bring a whole new approach to EOD training. As its name suggests, everything important for EOD preparation will be included in just one set of hardware – VR glasses and two controllers for both hands.
The new approach is guaranteed not only by Virtual Reality Experience but also by the software, created in the Unity program, which is accessible all the time via the VR Set (the only requirement is an occasional charge of batteries). The core of the software is an environment, which opens doors to different rooms or other environments for the training. Each of these rooms focuses on a specific part of EOD training and all together they form a complex platform that is able to support every aspect of EOD training.
By default, the VR Training Kit offers a completely new, more entertaining experience, which is necessary for training, which tends to be conducted over a longer period of time. It can be used anytime, anywhere removing the usual restrictions of training area, time, weather, etc. In addition, it will eventually collect more data, educational material and ordnance models than any other training facility in the world.
This project’s goal, however, is to strive for more than the default advantages. Virtual Reality, the software and the connection to a whole database create a completely new space for managing information in various ways, and our aim is to exploit its possibilities as much as possible.
Besides the aforementioned advantages and content of lots of data and educational material, its main benefit lies in performing tasks in a virtual environment. The focus will be put on the decision- making process of individuals during performing EOD actions in all phases of the EOD incident. In these, several factors will be instrumental to be able to complement the traditional training, such as:
- Limitless time and area,
- Removed margin for error,
- Persistent changes and updates of scenarios created purposefully for improvement of individual skills – removed repetitiveness and predictability of training,
- Option – instant instructor’s supervision / automatic evaluation,
- Possibility to apply the usage of different tools instantly and amend new ones.
CURRENT STATE OF THE ETACS PROJECT
So far, the project has been ongoing for ten months and current results are represented by the principal skeleton of the whole software with several rooms, each focusing on different aspects of the EOD training, be it theoretical knowledge, a separate practice of handling of EOD tools or practical exercises in a generated environment to test the application of the user’s knowledge in the simulated scenarios.
Further plans for the VR Training Kit include full development of the Beta Version of the Kit in the year 2023, with a plan to finish the entire Kit by the end of 2024. The development will include also updating the EO Library and EO Database along with 3D models and is based on continuous testing and gathering feedbacks from EOD experts, influencing the plan, adding new ideas and correcting mistakes in order to create a product of high-quality.
Overall, it is important to mention that Virtual Reality is still a relatively new technology, and many industries will most certainly find new ways of exploiting it for their own needs. Therefore, investment of effort and time in this area is essential to be able to recognize its possibilities and full potential. It goes without saying that the Virtual Reality Training will never be able to replace the hands-on training experience.However, it could fill in the gaps in current curriculums and most definitely can provide a unique experience, even addressing more the younger generation of EOD operators, despite differences in NATO nations’ respective EOD training.
Finally, only tangible results will show the true possibilities of Virtual Reality in the field of EOD, which will take lots of work and testing in the near future. Its success can be a cornerstone for ́the further development of other new technologies, like Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Sensor Fusion, etc. for the EOD field. It will be examined by NATO EOD COE as part of the ETACS Project later on, upon finalization of the Virtual Reality Training Kit and will be focused on supporting EOD Operators during the tasks’ execution. But, regardless of how rapid is the development in the world of technologies, it is important to stay in touch with the newest trends and progress in order to achieve the best results possible, which is eventually, saving human lives. ■
- Joe Bardi. What Is Virtual Reality: Definitions, Devices, and Examples. 2022. https://www.marxentlabs.com/what-is-virtual-reality/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Second Lieutenant David Slatkovsky has graduated from Military Academy in Liptovsky Mikulas, Slovakia, in 2021 as MILENG Officer. After a short period of time as EOD Platoon Commander in the Engineer Regiment in Sered, he has been working as EOD Officer in NATO EOD COE and is currently in EOD Technologies Department. After the departure of the former ETACS Project Manager and take-over of the project in September 2022, he works as the ETACS Project Manager.