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SISO’s annual Simulation Interoperability Workshop (SIW) will soon be here and as always, a number of us MÄKers will be in attendance.  There is a lot going on this year but one of the most notable "” at least in my (admittedly biased) opinion "” is the meeting of the RPR FOM PDG. Earlier this year RPR FOM 2.0 was successfully balloted, though with a number of comments. A small group of us has been working to resolve those comments and at SIW we’ll be holding a full PDG meeting to vote on final decisions (feel free to join us). That means we may soon have an official RPR FOM 2.0 standard!

Some of you are probably thinking, "What’s the big deal? I’ve been using RPR 2 for years." It’s true, many of us have been. Despite never being officially standardized, draft 17 of the FOM has become a de facto standard, used throughout the world in many important federations. But draft 17 had a number of issues which the RPR drafting group has been trying to address over the last couple of years. Perhaps the most glaring problem was the lack of support for HLA 1516-2000 or 1516-2010 (HLA Evolved). While a number of versions have been produced by different groups over the years, there was no one official version. On top of that we have fixed bugs, inconsistencies, poor datatype naming, and confusing descriptions and documentation. We now even have a modularized version for HLA Evolved. I am happy to say that I believe this is the best version of the RPR FOM yet. I encourage you all to check out draft 20 of both the FOM and the accompanying GRIM (Guidance, Rationale, and Interoperability Modalities) document.

If you are going to be at SIW and would like a higher level overview of RPR FOM history, what we’ve been up to lately, and where we think the FOM is headed in the future, I also encourage you to attend the presentation of a paper I co-authored with Björn Möller of Pitch Technologies, Patrice Le Leydour of Thales, and René Verhage of CAE titled "RPR FOM 2.0: A Federation Object Model for Defense Simulations."

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Now that VR-Link for C# is released, we are excited to build new simulations on top of C#. I personally find C# to be fantastic to work with, so I can't wait. But even more interesting is that VR-Link is actually built as a CLI (Common Language Runtime) library.

The CLI is an intermediate language that can be used to build applications on any other language that conforms to the CLI standard. There are many. As of this writing, Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_CLI_languages) lists 32 separate languages that can interface with a CLI library. This includes scripting tools such as Python, PHP, and Ruby, purer languages such as Eiffel, and commonly used simpler languages, such as Visual Basic! Our customers are no longer bound by language limitations and will now be able to choose the language strictly based on which one is more useful for the job. You can even mix and match as you please.

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MÄK is continually increasing the quantity and quality of the content provided with our products. When you use MÄK products you get a world of content: terrain databases, simulation models, human characters, behaviors "“ all kinds of awesome content to make your virtual environments rich and effective for training and experimentation.

VR-Forces has hundreds of simulation models representing different vehicle types you can use to develop your urban, military, or maritime scenarios. DI-Guy 13 adds more than 100 new human appearances and with the DI-Guy variation system, you can randomly mix bodies, faces, and clothing to make virtually unlimited unique appearances - build huge crowds where you never see the same person twice! Our SpeedTree animated 3D vegetation and foliage gives your outdoor scene the look and feel of the real world. And layer all of this content on top of our many terrain databases, including Hawaii and a Middle Eastern Village:

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MÄK is making a huge investment in our premier visual suite, VR-Vantage. Last year we made tremendous strides by adding ocean and maritime visualization. The work continues full force as we continue to improve our visual environment. The next release of VR-Vantage, 2.0, is planned for later this year and has two major directions: performance improvements and visual quality enhancements.

We are committed to improving performance in VR-Vantage. Look forward to shader optimizations that take advantage of game-based rendering techniques, an improved physics engine to enhance the visual interaction between objects (like ships that rock on the dynamic ocean), optimized loading algorithms for large terrains, and improved internal organization and grouping of geometries to maximize capabilities of the GPU. If that all sounds like techno-jargon, it is! We’re focusing on the complicated stuff so you can focus on better-looking, better- performing scenes that run at 60 frames per second (fps), the gold standard of smooth visualization.

Visually, we are concentrating on several areas: a beautiful environment, lighting effects (both day and night), improved trees and vegetation, and high fidelity sensor/camera modeling. Both the ocean and the sky in VR-Vantage have been greatly improved. The ocean supports many new features, including helicopter rotor wash, significantly faster/better wakes (both up close and from the air), and underwater crepuscular rays ("God Rays"). The sky draws faster and can be rendered with high-resolution clouds. Complex surf patterns on shorelines can now be configured through shape files, allowing surf to roll onto beaches and inlets accurately.

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While MÄK is based in Massachusetts, we have some very good friends down in Texas. If you are in Texas, or if you’re just simulating it, you know that the stars at night need to shine really bright. VR-Vantage can help with that. VR-Vantage uses a real star map to calculate thousands of star positions for every day of every year. The stars are accurate, and if you look closely enough, you can pick out some of the planets as well.

When you are simulating at night, it’s necessary to make some of the stars brighter, or perhaps play with the luminosity of the moon. Here’s how you can do that: While some of the details of sky configuration can be found in the GUI, some of the more obscure and advanced settings can be found in the file vrvantage/data/Environment/Sky/SilverLining.config. If you look through this file, you will see lots of ways to configure the Sun, Moon, Clouds, Stars, and the Atmosphere.

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What’s the difference between a dull, old model and a bright shiny, new model?

Turns out, it’s just texture maps. Oh yeah, and the VR-Vantage rendering engine. With VR-Vantage 1.6 all you have to do to get bumpy, shiny, and shady effects in your models is add normal, specular, and occlusion maps. That might sound pretty complicated. But really these are all textures that you can create with tools like Crazybump, Blender, and Photoshop.

Crazybump will take your texture map and guess what shape it is and then use that shape to generate (bake) specular, normal, and occlusion maps. But it’s just guessing. If you have a high-polygon count 3D model, then you can use tools like Blender to bake specular, normal, and occlusion maps from that model. And in Photoshop, you can paint specular maps by highlighting the shiny spots of your original texture.

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Whether you’re simulating characters on a plane, emergency responders tending to a car accident, soldiers fighting for a foreign military, or a businessman walking down a busy Brooklyn street, DI-Guy gives you the content to create scenarios in whatever setting you need.

But if you’re like us, you might need to see it to believe it. So go on, take a peek at some of the new character content available with the just-released DI-Guy 13!

di-guy-character-content1_v2

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Ever since MÄK acquired the DI-Guy product line from Boston Dynamics in December, we have been working hard to make sure the transition for DI-Guy customers is as seamless as possible. The product line is still supported by the same DI-Guy developers (who are now part of the MÄK team), and we have continued development based on the original DI-Guy 13 roadmap. However, we are making a change to the way DI-Guy license management is implemented: DI-Guy products will now be licensed the same way the rest of the MÄK product suite is licensed. These changes are mechanical in nature and in no way affect the legal rights associated with product usage. We believe these changes will improve your experiences using DI-Guy. The changes are quite limited, as DI-Guy has always used FlexLM - the same license management software used by all MÄK products. This blog is designed to explain the changes and discuss their rationale.

Existing MÄK customers
If you are already using other MÄK Products and are familiar with MÄK licensing, DI-Guy 13 licenses onward will work the exact same way they work for other MÄK products. We will also start distributing DI-Guy 13 licenses in the same file with other MÄK products.

Hosted licenses
Our license software supports both hosted and node-locked licenses. Hosted licenses use a license server allowing the software to run on any machine that can connect and check a license out from the license server. Node-locked licenses are licenses that are restricted to a single machine. Before the transition to MÄK, most DI-Guy customers received node-locked licenses, as hosted licenses came at an extra cost.  MÄK does not charge extra for hosted licenses; our goal is to provide the licenses in the format which works best for you. We issue hosted licenses by default, as we do for all of our products. However, node-locked licenses are still available upon request.

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DI-Guy 13 is almost here and we can’t wait for you to try it out. Here’s a rundown of some of the new features you can expect and what they mean for you.

Streamlined Appearance Configuration System - This system reduces the need for hundreds of different appearances and allows you to view which carried objects can be used by specific characters. In DI-Guy 13, enjoy using the same character body with a variety of carried objects (guns, phone, video camera, etc) and different heads to customize that character’s appearance. This means that instead of modifying hundreds of soldiers with a new weapon, for example, just add the new weapon to a list of character-appropriate objects.

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Over the last couple weeks I’ve been in Bogotá, Colombia and Sáo José dos Campos, Brazil doing simulation seminars for our customers. I’ve included a picture of the group we had in Bogotá. Thanks very much to Procalculo for hosting the event at their office and for getting such a great group together. I started off with an overview of all our products and the latest versions of the demos we showed at I/ITSEC including the Training System Demonstrator and the Oculus Rift virtual reality demo in VR-Vantage. In both seminars we spent most of our time on VR-Forces. In Colombia we spent the last hours connecting all the computers together and doing a large joint forces war game. In Brazil we took some time to use the terrain agility features of VR-Forces to load in some local Brazilian terrain data. Not surprisingly, I didn’t magically win a ticket to the World Cup so I watched game one from the airport terminal at GRU which echoed with the sound of vuvuzelas and then headed home. It was a great trip and I’m looking forward to returning to South America again soon!

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We are proud of our customer support. We believe that if our customers aren’t happy, then we won’t succeed. To that end, we do support a bit differently than most companies. In this blog, I plan to take a little bit of time and explain how our support works. I will also offer a few pointers on how to get the most from it.

The primary way we try to make our technical support great is by not having a technical support team. Our engineers "“ every one of them "“ are responsible for our customer support. Specifically, this means each of our product team engineers often dedicates a significant portion of their day to helping customers directly. 

This is an unusual position for a company of our size to take; the more typical approach is to have a first line support team who answers the majority of questions and then allow for escalations to the engineering team. Even then, there is probably a single, usually junior, member of the engineering team that deals with most of the escalated questions. This typical approach is taken because the majority of customer support questions are perceived (incorrectly) to be a waste of time for more talented engineers who are busy on "important" features. MÄK completely disagrees.

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The contents of this blog have been moved to the Support > Hardware Recomendations page.

 

 

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MÄK customers validate the benefits of Web & Mobile technology by using WebLVC to bring simulation activity into light-weight applications.

Many of our customers operate large and complex systems. Web & Mobile technology enables them to help their customers understand the depth and value of these systems. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to bring prospective customers into the facilities of existing customers just to show how systems work together to solve problems. Even building a simulated mock-up of a typical end-customer’s system, with feature-rich and complex interfaces, might be too overwhelming. Where does this leave most business development pitches? With a powerpoint presentation.

There’s a better way.

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The size, complexity, and richness of your simulation scenario is typically a function of how much work it takes to set up and the computing power it takes to run at the desired fidelity. Here are MÄK’s top 5 ways to empower your scenario with VR-Forces.

  • Give your entities brains - Scripting is great when you want to precisely define what individual entities are doing. (Read this article about differences between scripting and AI.) But in general, the more intelligence you can give an entity, the less scripting you have to do to define its role in the scenario. Use Lua scripting in VR-Forces to assign behaviors to entities and give them an additional layer of intelligence; this intelligence will provide behaviors that they’ll use when they need to react to situations in the scenario.
  • Let one entity do the thinking for many - A simple example of this is embarkation. Imagine human character entities "embarking" in a vehicle; once inside the car, the humans can stop thinking about how to get around in the simulated world because the vehicle will do that for them. When the vehicle arrives at some destination, the human characters disembark and re-engage their brains to react to the circumstances at their destination.
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How complicated is a banking system? It’s complicated. But how about that mobile app that lets you take a picture of a check and deposit it on the spot? That’s a great example of how web and mobile technology is making things easier for banking customers.

Web and mobile technology works in training environments, too. Imagine a mobile application designed to trigger scenarios to create specific experiences needed for a lesson plan. An instructor with this in hand could monitor the student and tap the screen to choose experiences that match the skill level of the trainee. Want help exploring improvements to your training system? MÄK’s leading the way with web & mobile applications. Leave us a comment here or drop us a line at info@mak.com to learn more.

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Just because something is faster doesn’t necessarily make it better. We’re here to prove that faster really is better when it comes to creating complex behaviors for a CGF. Scriptable tasks in VR-Forces give you the power to quickly develop complex tasks, easily coordinate group behaviors, and script GUI components in minutes, empowering you to develop better and more compelling simulations.

Rapid development cycles let you take advantage of the often limited time your have with subject matter experts (SMEs). Together you can transcribe the problem into behavior, test it interactively, fine tune it, and make it right. The more reliable information about the problem that you can encode into the behaviors, the more valid your simulation will be "“ more iterations means a higher quality result.

Let’s say you’ve been tasked to develop a search and rescue mission "“ you have limited time and know little about the actual search and rescue patterns or protocol. You decide to consult the WSDOT Aircrew Training Text as your expert. After some research, you learn about the different visual search patterns and you throw together a quick script that incorporates a specific pattern, and then you test it out. 20 iterations later, paired with a little feedback from SMEs, and you probably have a pretty good script consisting of several search patterns embedded in one another.

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Bridge simulated systems into live environments to help soldiers train as they fight

Military training is important and exists for one purpose: to prepare soldiers to be successful on the battlefield. To achieve success, training must include experiential learning where students are exposed to realistic battlefield conditions before they experience actual combat.

For the military to train as they fight, they should have access to their own systems when they train. After all, training on real equipment is most realistic. But instead of using their own live weapons, fuel, or other resources during training, connect their live system to a simulated environment and let it interact with a simulated environment with injected threats and targets.

On one hand, they’re using real combat equipment; on the other, they’re taking advantage of training simulation systems. Both have complex and important architectures. Combat systems often use sophisticated Data
Distribution System (DDS) architectures to communicate and manage data within the system. Training simulation technologies use High Level Architecture (HLA) to distribute entity information and events. How can the two different systems and data management mechanisms be used simultaneously?

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MÄK is always trying to make VR-Forces easier to use. This means that we are constantly looking for better ways to create and manipulate entity types "“ specifically, complicated entity types. When we released VR-Forces 4.2, we added many new types of weapon systems and ships to the default VR-Forces model set. As we set out to use these new systems, we realized that most entities hosted not only many diverse weapon systems, but also other entities that could be viewed as an extension of the host ship.

Let’s look at Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). Ships don’t just fire torpedoes "“ they launch a helicopter to fly toward the target, which then drops the torpedo. The helicopter always eventually returns to the ship. We want to enable VR-Forces users to easily create this type of scenario by simply clicking on a ship, telling it to "Deploy torpedo here", and then have the ship automatically 1) deploy the helicopter, 2) have the helicopter fly to the appropriate place, 3) drop the torpedo, and 4) return to the ship. There are many types of scenarios where an entity hosts a separate entity that indirectly performs routine tasks. This is where our newest "Embedded Entities" come into play. Keep reading...

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Interoperability is hard. It is hard because there are a myriad of open standards out there, as well as multiple protocols, operating systems, and, of course, requirements. At VT MÄK, we understand this. To help, we have always tried to support the widest variety of configurations that we can. All of our products support four different DIS versions, three different HLA versions, and a plethora of FOMS, operating systems, and compilers. VR-Exchange expands this even further with DDS, TENA, and many other protocols.

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May is almost here and we are getting really excited "“ we can’t wait to finalize and release DI-Guy 13 at MÄK! This will be DI-Guy’s first major release as a part of MÄK. While there is a ton of new stuff going into this release, I wanted to share some pics of several of the new characters we are adding. Enjoy this sneak peek and feel free to comment if you have questions! (Click below to read more.)

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