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This week, MÄK is in sunny Las Vegas for the AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2012 show. Sitting in the middle of one of the largest unmanned vehicle trade shows is a like sitting on the set of Wall-E, but with more robots. We’re showing our simulated video solutions and how we can support experimentation and training for these systems. We teamed up with DiSTI this week to develop a ground control station that interacts with the simulation, controls the UAV, and receives data streams from the simulated UAV over MISB standards compliant protocols just like a real UAV would. 

If you’re looking for a winning bet, come by the VT MÄK booth (#2911) and see how we can help you produce reliable training and experimentation platforms for your unmanned systems.

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We are pleased to announce the introduction of the Early Adopters Program for MÄK COTS software!

These days, MÄK is moving full steam ahead with some exciting features in our product line - be ahead of the curve and learn about these upcoming features before their public release. As a member of the Early Adopters Program, you’ll receive download links to pre-released software; this gives you the chance to provide critical comments about feature usability and direction that can influence a product’s final release. These releases will also help you better understand the direction our products are going with regard to new features.

If you’re an engineer who likes to live on the bleeding edge and always plays with the latest and greatest, then the MÄK Early Adopters program is for you. Customers with up-to-date maintenance can sign up to receive download links to Early Adopter release versions of MÄK products.

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Esri, the biggest player in the Geographic Information System market, held its international users conference last week in San Diego. As usual, it was a very impressive event.

Many of us in the Modeling, Simulation & Training industries use, or have used, Esri’s ArcGIS tools to prepare geographic information for use as source data in our terrain database generation workflows. Well, this year Esri stepped into the 3D site model generation business by acquiring Procedural and their City Engine technology for building 3D urban environments.  Those of you who know me, know I’ve been a proponent of procedural terrain generation for years, I even authored an I/ITSEC paper on the subject in 2004.   So, on the flight to San Diego, I took the opportunity to give City Engine a try.

I found the design approach to be just what you expect from a procedural tool: fast and creative. The product comes with several sample projects that let you experience the scope of the rule-driven approach. After playing with the sample projects for a while, I felt like I understood the approach and wanted to try it out with my own data. So, I loaded a shapefile of road centerlines and was pleased to find that it automatically found all my intersections, buffered the road, created sidewalks, blocks between the roads, and lots within the blocks. All this because of default rules. I then tweaked the parameters to make lots the sizes I wanted and I’m off. There’s lots more gems to be found in the rules they have set up in the sample projects.

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It is somewhat axiomatic in the documentation biz that“no one reads the doc&rdquo, unless you make a mistake -“ then everyone reads that section. In the Entity Editor documentation for VR-Forces 3.12, we described a feature that wasn’t actually in the product:“ the ability to edit 3D models in the editor. Since then, every now and then someone asks how to find that feature and we’ve had to admit the error. No more! In VR-Forces 4.0.4, you can edit an entity’s 3D model, XR model, and 2D icon in the Entity Editor.

The Entity Editor lets you quickly and easily change the 3D model used to represent an entity. When you change a model in the Entity Editor, the entity’s model definition also gets changed. (In other words, it is fully integrated with the settings in the Visual Model Editor.) 

The window that shows an entity’s model is live, so you can manipulate the view of the model using the same keys that you would use to move the observer in the VR-Forces Stealth or XR observer modes.

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For a number of years, the MÄK RTI has supported a useful feature called FDD (or FED if we’re talking about HLA 1.3) file distribution. The original idea was that often during federation development you might find the need to update your FDD file. This often meant going around to every machine you were using and updating the local copy of the file. Obviously, this is both tedious and error prone. With FDD file distribution, only the federate that created the federation execution needed to have a local copy. When the federation was created, the file was distributed through the RTI to the rtiexec, which then distributed it to every other joining federate. This guaranteed that everyone was using the most up to date file and there were no discrepancies. There was one obvious downside to this feature however: start-up times were slower.

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Last week, alongside my colleague Gary Schrader, I attended and exhibited at the AFCEA-GMU (the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association - George Mason University) C4I Center Conference in Fairfax Virginia. The conference consisted of various speakers with expert backgrounds presenting topics consisting of C2 Integration Operations, Research Testbeds, Cyber networks, and C4I cloud computing, to name a few of the topics and papers. 

Dr. Michael Hieb, Research Professor of George Mason University, presented the C4I simulation based environment for Concept Development and Assessment developed on VR-Forces.  His research group also exhibited and demonstrated with their Brazilian partners ITA (Institute Technology Aeronautics) their joint collaboration solution based on VR-Forces. 

We are very much looking forward to next year’s event and can’t wait to see further development and solutions derived from GMU and ITA!

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On a quick walk around the show floor here at ITEC 2012 in London, I was excited to see the number of partners and other product vendors demonstrating new integrations between their products and ours:

1) Antycip Simulation is demonstrating a new dynamic ocean visualization plug-in to VR-Vantage, based on their MyOcean3D technology.  This plug-in generates realistic-looking waves by using fast-fourier-transform techniques to generate a dynamic height field, encoding the height field in a texture, and passing the texture to custom shader code running on the GPU.  The shader supports vertex displacement both vertically (for crests and troughs) and horizontally (for curling and breaking wave tips).  In the demonstration, a ship simulated by VR-Forces bobs and rocks realistically on the waves.  This is accomplished through a dynamic form of“ocean clamping&rdquo, where a simple physics model is run in VR-Vantage to offset the ground-truth positions and orientations published over HLA by VR-Forces.  The MyOcean3D plug-in to VR-Vantage is already in use at one customer site, and we are interested in hearing whether you’d like to see this become part of the standard product offering.

2) Discovery Machine is demonstrating a brand new integration between their Knowledge Service Modeler AI software, and our VR-Forces CGF.  With the Knowledge Service Modeler, users can construct strategies in a graphical language that is: accessible to a wide range of users; hierarchical in nature; object-oriented; fully reflective; and easily integrated into existing systems.  In their demonstration, Discovery Machine is showing how users can quickly build complex and high-level behaviors in their editor, and immediately assign those behaviors to VR-Forces entities in an interactive simulation environment.

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The weather in Atlantic city is definitely IFR conditions (&ldquoInstrument Flight Rules” - or for us recovering army helicopter pilots,“I Follow Roads”). There’s zero visibility and clouds all the way down to the surface. I’m not the least bit worried though, I’m at the Air Traffic Controller’s Technical Symposium with a large number people who are used to landing aircraft of any size in these conditions.

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Periodically, MÄK reassesses platform support for our product line. We consider a platform a paired version of compiler and OS. For example, Windows 7 and MSVC++ 8 is a single platform, while Windows 7 and MSVC++9 is a different platform.  In order to support the most popular and stable platforms while maintaining commitment to quality products, we need to limit the total number of platforms we support as part of the standard product offering.

In general, when deciding to support or not support a platform we consider a number of factors:

1. Does the product have a heavily used API? -“ some of our products are generally used out-of-the-box with little API usage. In those cases we can support fewer compiler variations.
2. Do customers have to integrate our products and libraries into legacy systems, or larger systems that they are developing? -“ this requires broader compiler variation support.
3. How easy is it for us to build and test on a given platform?
4. How many customers are actually using the platform at all?

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Earlier this month, VT MÄK, alongside our corporate partner DiSTI Simulation, held the regional Asian Resellers Conference in a Songdo, Korea - a small town nestled in the hills located just outside of Icheon.  The event was well attended by distributors who came as far as Australia, India, Singapore, and Taiwan to our local distributor in Korea.  We welcomed over a dozen resellers and 30 attendees, each representing their respective regional companies and territories. 

During the two-day event, the attendees were exposed to the latest product technologies of VR-TheWorld and the entire suite of Simulation, Visualization, and Interoperability products, as well as DiSTI’s HMI tools such as GL-Studio, Replica8, and corporate roadmaps. The event was a great success and we hope to see everyone at the next resellers meeting scheduled to be held in Singapore.

asain_reseller_conference_2012

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In VR-Vantage 1.5, we will be making some small changes to the Track History feature. Track Histories are currently limited in how long they can get. This is for performance reasons because, as you can imagine, creating infinitely long track histories will cause the application to run out of memory.

In 1.5, we will allow the users to specify the length of each track history segment and also the total number of segments allowed per track history. This lets you have longer track histories if you have fewer entities, for example. 

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Some people count themselves as members of Gen X, or the Pepsi Generation, but we here at MÄK are proud to be members of the Scenario Generation. When people see us at trade shows, they say,“Hey, there go those scenario generation fools.” No, wait. I mean they say, &ldquoHey, those guys have great scenario generation tools.” Right. And we just say, &ldquoLA, LA, LA.” No, I mean we say, &ldquoHLA, HLA, HLA.” That’s because we are all about distributed simulation. Yes. That’s us. The folks who do distributed simulation with great scenario generation tools. And great support. And people love our documentation too. They always call us up and yell, &ldquoHey, your doc is full of DISinformation.” And we say, &ldquoRTIUR.”

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At MÄK we take developer documentation seriously. We recognize we haven’t always gotten it right, therefore we are continually trying to make it better. With new product releases starting this quarter, we will be overhauling how we present development documentation. The changes may be relatively subtle but we believe you will appreciate them.

Historically, we have always had two places developers needed to look to understand our APIs: The Developer’s Guide, which was in PDF format, and the Class Documentation, an HTML guide to class usage. These two competing formats sometimes got out of sync because they weren’t reviewed at the same time, or because the class docs were generated automatically from the code thereby instantly reflecting changes. To solve these problems, we started moving code segments from the Developers Guide to the Class Docs, but this just made the split between the two documents more troublesome.

To resolve this problem once and for all, we are doing away with the Developers Guide as a PDF and moving all the content into a single unified HTML format which is generated and highly cross-referenced every night as part of our Nightly Build Process. All of the same content will be there, but now users will be able to click through class references in the documentation to see the associated class docs. We have also started to add tutorials and other content into the web system to provide a more comprehensive understanding of our APIs.

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VT MÄK is pleased to announce the release of VR-Vantage 1.4.1. This release marks another milestone in our Open Streaming Terrain story by adding the visualization of streaming vector data.  VR-Vantage applications (like VR-Vantage Stealth or VR-Vantage IG) can now stream in point, linear and areal features from a compliant terrain server using the open standard Web Feature Service (WFS) protocol, and use those features to generate textured 3D geometry on-the-fly at run-time.  VR-Vantage applications can:

  • Generate 3D geometry for buildings, fences, and walls by extruding polygons from geo-specific footprints (linear or areal features), and applying geotypical textures based on feature attributes
  • Place pre-built 3D models representing trees, geospecific buildings, lampposts, etc., into the scene based on the locations and attributes of individual point features ("point feature substitution")
  • Automatically populate forests with trees, or populate roads with telephone poles, fire hydrants, etc., by randomly placing 3D objects within areal features, or along linear features.

Combined with our existing support for streaming elevation and imagery, these new capabilities allow you to very quickly visualize 3D environments that are both global in scale, and visually rich:  Just upload your source data to a compliant streaming terrain server such as MAK’s VR-TheWorld Server, configure your feature-to-geometry mappings using an XML-based“.earth file”, and tell VR-Vantage to connect.

To demonstrate the new capabilities, we’ve collected readily available source data for the Hawaiian island of Oahu, put this data on our VR-TheWorld Online server, and shipped a sample .earth file with VR-Vantage 1.4.1.  Check it out using any VR-Vantage application (Download VR-Vantage FreeViewhere) or watch a video tour of Hawaii here.

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When we released VR-TheWorld, we weren’t sure if the defense M&S community was ready for open streaming terrain - distributed interactive simulation has such a strong dependence on correlation. So making a terrain database that runs in all the systems and meets all the requirements is a big job. Not all systems are capable of on-the-fly terrain creation from terrain servers, like VR-Forces and VR-Vantage.

Lately, we are beginning to see more and more use cases for streaming terrain servers in the early stages of large projects. By hosting the GIS data, the foundational data layers (elevation, features, imagery), on a streaming terrain server, project teams are able to start simulating immediately. They can use the terrain agile VR-Forces to plan and execute scenarios months before the terrain databases are even built.  And because VR-Forces and VR-Vantage are terrain agile, they can switch to using the static terrain databases when they are finally delivered. Customers are finding that some simulation tasks are started and finished on the open streaming terrain without the need for a static database build.

Our VizForFree promotion makes it even easier for your project to get the jump on your project timeline. VizForFree makes it possible for you to start sharing your terrain data today, regardless of which simulation platforms you will be supporting tomorrow. If you haven’t seen our VizForFree video yet, have a look. 

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With the release of VR-Vantage 1.4.1 comes the ability to visualize streaming features from Open Streaming Terrain Servers like VR-TheWorld. Check out the hundreds of thousands of buildings and millions of trees being served up on our Hawaii database. The island of Oahu has been chosen to demonstrate this capability and all you need to visualize it is a VR-Vantage application and an internet connection. 

Use any VR-Vantage application like VR-Vantage Stealth or VR-Vantage FreeView. Connect to our online VR-TheWorld Server (when the app starts a terrain chooser dialog appears with“VR-TheWorld Online - MÄK Earth.earth” already selected. Just click OK). Load a "saved view" to bring you directly to Hawaii (Observer Saved Viewe Panel -> Import and Replace Views -> Choose "hawaii-boston.osrx". Click on "Hawaii").

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VT MÄK presented its ISR Lab demonstration at the 2012 Feria Internacional del Aire y del Espacio (FIDAE air show) in Santiago, Chile. We actually brought two ISR Lab set ups - one for the Latinmedia booth (our reseller in South America) and the other for the Centro de Modelacion y Simulacion (CEMSE) of the Chilean Army. The demonstration was customized to run a new scenario which takes place on a terrain database based on Antofagasta, Chile.

In the Latinmedia booth, the ISR Lab was being shown on a gigantic screen provided by Screen Innovations. The individual channels were arranged using a MediaWall from RGB Spectrum and then projected by two projectors from projection design.

FIDAE_2

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The next major release of VR-Vantage (1.5 coming out Q3 2012) will let users visualize radio communications. Users of VR-Vantage Stealth, VR-Vantage PVD and VR-Vantage XR (and eventually VR-Forces and SimMetrics) can tell who’s sending radio messages by their“Squawks”. You’ll also be able to see who they’re communicating with via &ldquoRadio Communication Lines”. 

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A common question from people who are new to VR-Forces:“How easy is it to create new scenarios in VR-Forces?” It’s a good question to ask when you are evaluating CGFs. The answer is always: &ldquoIt depends.”

There are obviously some very complicated scenarios you could dream up that would make scripting them quite complicated and difficult. That said, most scenarios are very easy to script. At the end of this post, you’ll watch a scenario with a helicopter flying over some mountains - I whipped this one up in about three minutes. It runs a bit faster than real time, so you can enjoy it in about one minute or so.

After I create the scenario, I slow it down, play it, and show some of the new 3D/2D integrations that are making VR-Forces 4.0 so popular.  As a bonus, I also demonstrate a new feature coming to VR-Forces 4.0.4 in June. We’ve overhauled our machine gun model and added chain guns to helicopters and other vehicle types, which is something customers have been asking about for a long time.

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In our effort to continually make the user experience better, I wanted to show a small feature we are adding to VR-Forces 4.0.4  -- due out in June 2012 -- which allows users to choose what plug-ins to load when they start VR-Forces. This is a pretty simple feature that’s best described with a picture:

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