Friend or Foe?

In today’s military, the ability to quickly differentiate friend from foe is a crucial skill, and new training methods are essential to preparing soldiers for fast decision-making. Huntsville-based AEgis Technologies is at the forefront of specialized interactive training. In December of 2012, the modeling and simulation company released an interactive training simulator to hone military identification skills.

To meet the need for faster, smarter training, AEgis has developed Combat ID, a highly accurate and detailed visual identification game. The interactive program is intended to be an immersive simulation of real combat scenarios. In these scenarios, trainees must learn to identify vehicles from the air via UAV perspectives and infrared cameras.

“In a combat situation, soldiers will have to be able to identify a vehicle as friend or foe under pressure, ” says Barlow Blake, development manager of gaming. “In Combat ID, players are given a time limit to identify vehicles on the ground.”

Players start the game in the Training Garage, where they can familiarize themselves with 30 different vehicles. The garage provides a 3D model of each vehicle with a text description, informing the player of what to look for before putting that knowledge to the test.

There are four stages representing various levels of difficulty, including vision-obscuring conditions like dust storms or darkness during night missions. “The infrared vision is vital at night, ” Blake says. “It will be used extensively and eyes have to get accustomed to it.” The attention to detail extends to camera operation itself, as the image is distorted if the player zooms in.

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Players learn to identify vehicles by markings, shape and other distinguishing features. “You’ll be able to determine the vehicle by specific signs like if it has wheels or treads, ” says Blake. The game features recognizable vehicles used in combat today, including Humvees, Strikers and Bradley tanks.

When the player sees a vehicle, he or she is prompted through an audio command to select from several options of what the vehicle might be. On mobile devices and tablets, the game is played via touchscreen, allowing the player to react and choose as quickly as possible. Each mission is timed, and all vehicles are subject to an airstrike if not identified as friendly, reflecting the ultimate goal of deterring friendly fire on the battlefield. 

The vehicles that appear in each level are randomized, resulting in a different experience each time the game is played. “This keeps the player from cheating by memorizing what vehicles will appear, ” Blake says. “You can only succeed by learning to recognize the vehicles and develop your identifying skills.” 

“The game goes beyond what flashcards could offer, ” he says. “In addition to identification, it offers a simulation of the combat environment through video and audio. You get a more accurate idea of what it would be like to try and recognize a tank or truck under intense conditions.”

Last December, Combat ID won the People’s Choice Award at the 2012 Serious Games Showcase and Challenge in Orlando, Fla. “The game passed scrutiny by industry experts, ” says Blake. “There were people there with military experience who were impressed with its accuracy.”

Research involved studies of military trends and contact with military authorities. AEgis consulted the Department of Defense and other experts while gathering research for the game to determine what vehicles are most commonly used today and how to depict the environment in which they would be seen.

While the current version of Combat ID depicts a wide variety of common military vehicles, AEgis already is looking into new builds of the game featuring vehicles unique to specific countries and forms of combat. 

Multiple departments throughout the company worked together to complete the project. The entire effort was funded internally, with all the company’s tech resources at the development team’s disposal. Because AEgis specializes in 3D modeling, many vehicles that appear in the game already were rendered and ready to be included.

“The whole development process took less than six months, ” Blake says.

AEgis Technologies has a winning track record of innovation. Since its founding in 1989, the company has made great strides in modeling and simulation and micro/nanoscale technology development. High-profile projects include 3D database development for the London, Vancouver and Beijing Olympic Games. Now, AEgis employs around 270 people. Last year, AEgis was declared one of the Top 20 Best Places to Work by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

Initially, Combat ID was designed to be used by the Department of Defense as an immersive and interesting way to train soldiers. “There is an increased awareness of games and technology for military training, ” Blake says. “Over the last five years or so, they have become more accessible as training tools.”

However, AEgis soon recognized that the game had entertainment potential beyond military use. “We realized that it was a lot of fun, ” Blake says. “A commercial version is now available on multiple platforms.” Combat ID is downloadable for mobile devices including Android, Apple and PC products.

Two versions of the game are available in the Apple Store and the Android Marketplace. Combat ID Lite is available for free download, featuring the training garage and one simulation level. The commercial version of Combat ID comes complete with the garage and all four simulation levels.

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Thomas Little is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. He lives in Birmingham.

Thomas Little

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