Wednesday, September 17, 2008

US Air Force planning to create its first virtual air base

According to the NextGov article Air Force opens bidding for virtual air base, the US Air Force is preparing to launch a virtual air base where airmen will attend courses in a 3D virtual world.

Simulators have long been used in training pilots and astronauts, due to the fatal consequences of mistakes by novices. This air base takes it a step further, with the Air Force looking to support up to 75 simultaneous users in a geospatially accurate real-time training environment.

As described in the NextGov article,
The service initially hopes to create two furnished virtual classrooms that can stream audio and video, and to allow users to design their own avatars in uniform with a variety of physical attributes and appropriate rank. The synthetic base also must include buildings, vegetation, signage, roads, security, a flight line with planes and the ability to exchange documents, photographs and video. Once it buys the software and training, the Air Force expects delivery within two weeks.

The system, termed MyBase, is seen as a key component in the Air Force's future training programs. Here's a video from them explaining more...

This type of learning environment is adaptable to many different functions - including virtual seminars and roadshows, collaborative meetings, presentations, media events, group-based activities and real-time or time-delayed course training. Several universities in the US have already made courses available via 3D virtual worlds such as Second Life.

In Australia we've seen some exploration of these technologies by the Victorian state government in its Melbourne Laneways project for public consumption.

My view is that some of the more immediate benefits for the public sector are in internal use of such environments by geographically diverse agencies to create learning and collaborative environments.

In fact the ATO has demonstrated such an environment already in its ATO Showcase as one of the innovations they are exploring for future roll-out.

For public use of these environments today by government the equity issue needs to be well considered.

Personally I've always felt that gradual degradation is an appropriate approach, providing a virtual 3D environment for broadband users, degrading to voice and powerpoint for 'thin' broadband and dial-up users, down to distributed multimedia for computer users without internet connections and to hardcopy or physical meetings for those without computers.

The other consideration is the proportion of the audience falling into each of these groups, and if this has not been established I'd be very cautious about providing more advanced options.

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