Contributing Writer,
Techstrong Group

The U.S. Space Force will spend $1.25 million to use an AI-based simulation platform to quickly create virtual immersive training scenarios for space flight operations, putting a spotlight on a technology that is getting a lot of interest from a broad range of industries.

SpaceWERX – the Space Force’s innovation unit that looks to leverage commercial technologies for the military branch’s work – announced this week that it awarded MSBAI and Princeton University the money to use the former’s GURU autonomous system to create and visualize space flight mission training scenarios.

MSBAI’s technology has been tapped by the Air Force in the past for similar efforts, and the latest award from the Space Force puts a spotlight on the growing use of visual training and simulation technologies by organizations in myriad industries.

It’s a market that is expected to expand from $336.8 billion two years ago to more than $1.03 trillion by 2030, a yearly average growth rate of 13.3%. A key driver behind the growth is the rapid innovation around virtual reality (VR) technology, which in turn has driven up demand for VR services, according to analysts with Verified Market Research.

Expanding Use of Virtual Training

The analysts wrote in a report that a growing number of researchers and students are enrolling in virtual training institutions to get training using VR technology, with 77% of American businesses using e-learning to help employees advance their careers and 85% of those who’ve participated in both virtual and live classes saying that virtual training is equal to or better than traditional classroom settings.

“With the advancement of technology, e-learning tools and knowledge of how people learn, simulation-based training is growing in popularity,” they wrote. “Large-scale training programs can help businesses save money, lower the risks involved in developing complicated skills on the job, and improve control and visibility into performance statistics.”

Rand Corp. in a report echoed the sentiment, saying that with virtual environments getting better in such areas as accessibility, scale and fidelity, the number of applications for simulation-based training is growing. At the same time, training remains a high priority in a broad array of sectors, such as manufacturing, law enforcement and health care, as well as defense.

“Technology – such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and serious virtual games – supports training needs in these fields with new and innovative ways to reduce costs and improve effectiveness,” the report’s authors wrote.

Space Scenarios

Allan Grosvenor, founder and CEO of MSBAI, told Digital CXO that virtual world immersive training lets trainees practice their skills in a range of scenarios and environments, which is “particularly valuable when preparing for situations that are rare [and] where the stakes are high.”

“In the case of space flight, there’s such a broad spectrum of events, and such a massive number of vehicles and assets to keep track of, that immersive environment provides an additional tool to comprehend an entire mission,” Grosvenor said.

Gen. James Dickinson, commander of Space Command, stressed the importance of training space flight mission operators when he was being considered by the Senate for the position three years ago. Unlike other branches of the military, the bulk of the work of Space Force combatants will be at a desk rather than in a battle arena.

MSBAI – which has a growing history of working with defense agencies – and Princeton, working with the Air Force’s Defense Readiness Agile Gaming Online Network (DRAGON), will use GURU to create comprehensive mission designs, analyses, and training scenarios in minutes, a task that MSBAI executives said typically takes hours or days to accomplish.

They noted that the number of space missions by both government agencies and commercial entities is growing rapidly, increasing the need for space-flight mission operations training that is carefully planned out. MSBAI’s goals with GURU include quickly creating training scenarios, ensuring visualization capabilities will catch mistakes early in the process, and increasing the rate of training iterations and rehearsals.

Through this, MSBAI and Princeton will provide a user-friendly and intuitive system that includes multiple visualization options for space operations, integrate it with the Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate’s White Cell console to autonomously drive the simulation tools, create 2D and 3D visualizations, and create and mange a library for storing and replaying simulations.

Improving the Platform

With GURU, MSBAI has “a powerful platform consisting of a common interface, orchestration and cloud deployment system, with a modular AI skills-agent approach that enables us to add an increasing number of software titles that GURU is able to drive expert workflows in,” Grosnevor said, adding that the six-year-old company continues to improve “our agent training learning engine so that we are able to build and train new agents much more quickly than we used to, and deliver highly integrated skills that our users need for their design, analysis, and creative work.”

A few years ago, it took MSBAI months to train one agent to perform an expert workflow in a software package, he said. Now it takes 10 days, and the company is pushing to bring that down to one day.

What the company is doing with the Space Force, in this case, is a single instance of an immersive virtual training trend that’s being seen in many different markets, Grosvenor said, pointing to mechanical maintenance, emergency first responders and space operations as three examples.

At the first, he said, when training someone to service expensive equipment like an F35 combat aircraft, it’s better to make mistakes on a virtual synthetic jet before working on the real thing. Similarly, when teaching someone to triage patients, suture a wound, or prepare a burn victim for emergency evacuation, it’s typical to let the individual practice on cadavers. Virtual scenarios are a better way of creating a complex and stressful environment for training.

In space operations, “It is easy to make a simple mistake with a decimal place in an orbital mechanics calculation,” Grosvenor said. “Having comprehensive, high-quality visualizations gives the space mission designer or operator a sanity check so they can catch mistakes early, and also have … rehearsal opportunities.”

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