This article was originally written and posted for publication in ST Engineering's Agile Blog.
At the dawn of the new millennium, two of the biggest aircraft manufacturers were vying for a $200 billion contract to build America’s next-generation fighter jet – the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The Air Force demanded a fighter jet that would be faster and more maneuverable, while the Navy needed a version with longer wings to land on its aircraft carriers. But among the biggest challenges was to build a third variation which would be a world-first – one that could land vertically on shortened runways for the Marine Corps.
So how did Boeing and Lockheed Martin demonstrate their respective designs and convince stakeholders to award them the contract? The answer was to build a simulated world where the two companies battled for air superiority as part of the proposal process, which Lockheed Martin eventually won.
At that time, I worked on a project that was responsible for creating the 3D terrain database that was used as the virtual world where Boeing and Lockheed tested their aircraft’s capabilities and performance characteristics. It was through such virtual prototyping and realistic simulation modeling that provided quick and accurate design validation to the new engineering concepts.
Today, to keep perfecting the art and science of building virtual prototypes and developing Virtual Reality (VR) environments, MAK develops 3D modeling and simulation environments for leading defense and systems and research institutes such as Boeing, Raytheon, and the UK’s Royal Air Force.
These organizations can experiment, visualize, and virtually prototype the capabilities and performance characteristics of new technologies under development.
And when the systems are ready for the real world, we help them develop a full suite of virtual training and mission rehearsal systems for operators.
To do that, we have created an open modular platform that allows our customers to tailor the simulation to their needs. We call this MAK ONE.
As a flexible modular system built upon open and interoperable standards, MAK ONE constructs a high-fidelity synthetic world for training, wargaming, experimentation, and virtual prototyping.
Now, anyone can develop a convincingly realistic virtual environment based on their respective physical operating environments across land, air, sea, and even space.
Take the simulator to the sea, and you will be immersed in a realistic ocean environment that closely resembles and replicates the interaction of ocean waves, winds, and weather from your perspective as a ship operator.
On land, you get accurate terrain and environment – from rain that puddles to land cover based on climate and vegetation. Artificial Intelligence (AI) characters can be added to simulate human activity and behavior for all kinds of patterns of life, such as vehicular traffic in urban environments for driving simulators and people and animals crossing roads.
Under these virtual environments, we have an extensive database of generic models for all kinds of aircraft, ground vehicles, ships, submarines, satellites, and even human characters – and how they interact with the environment.
But beyond individual simulators for airplanes, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), ships, and vehicles, these different environments across land, air, and sea can be combined to build a synthetic training environment connected within a large simulation network.
From conceptualization to system development and finally, to operational training, VR simulators are useful modeling and simulation tools at every stage of the acquisition lifecycle.
At the conceptualization phase, our customers come to us to build virtual prototypes of systems that do not yet exist. Here, we explore concepts for how the new systems – be they airplanes or radars – will operate or fit within other systems.
With this, they will be able to foresee the capabilities and performance characteristics of these new technologies and learn what they need to be effective.
The next phase is research and development and manufacturing. Here, we build simulation models to represent the physical environment and systems of our customers.
First, we construct a digital twin – or a virtual environment that mimics the characteristics of the real environment. By providing computer models with the same stimuli available to the real systems, our customers can learn how the new system will operate under real conditions.
Complex control systems are often developed this way, where engineers test out different designs in a physically safe virtual environment and then validate the system by replacing each computer component with a real hardware component, one at a time.
Once systems are made and deployed, the modeling simulation focus shifts to training.
By building realistic synthetic training environments in a VR world that closely reflects the real world’s physical and optical properties, training can be conducted safely, efficiently, and affordably.
With this modular open-systems architecture, we have helped the US Army build its next-generation synthetic training environment for its forces. Commanders and their staff can simulate missions and soldiers can train individually or collectively.
Modeling and simulation are the science and art of creating digital representations of things, concepts, or systems, and then animating these models over time to gain new insights. Our leading-edge 3D modeling and simulation solutions provide the platform for state-of-the-art training and experimentation in 3D synthetic environments, transforming the way we innovate and learn.