Interview with William “Bill” Cole, new President & CEO of VT MAK
In the 3-2-1 Interview of MT #10 (available at I/ITSEC 2018 on booth #2613 or available to order here), William “Bill” Cole, new President and CEO of VT MAK, answered our questions. For your convenience, here they are again.
MT: What are the three most important products or services you provide?
B. Cole: At VT MAK we provide a full suite of simulation products that link, simulate and visualise virtual worlds within networked synthetic environments. The flagship products are VR-Forces – a computer-generated forces simulation application; VR-Engage – a multi-role virtual simulator; and VR-Vantage with Sensor FX – a visualisation tool to render visual and sensor scenes of the virtual world. All these tools are connected to one another, and to many other simulation systems, with our interoperability tools.
MAK has a long history in the modelling, simulation and training community as a leader in the development of interoperability protocols and COTS products for distributed simulation. Core to our philosophy is the notion that simulation tools should give customers options, not lock them into a single-vendor solution. All of MAK’s simulation products are designed with that principle of interoperability in mind. Because of this, we can offer complete simulation systems using all the products in the MAK suite, or offer individual MAK products which can be easily integrated with components provided by our customers or other vendors within the industry.
1. VR-FORCES is a powerful and flexible computer-generated forces (CGF) platform for simulating battlefield, maritime, urban, airspace and space activity within a synthetic environment. It models vehicles, human characters, weapon systems, munitions, communications, sensors and satellites. It is used as a threat generator for training and mission rehearsal systems, a synthetic environment for experimentation, and as an engine to stimulate C4I systems. It is highly customisable and can work with a variety of terrain data formats.
2. VR-ENGAGE is our new multi-role virtual simulator that lets users directly participate in the virtual environment as a first-person human character; a vehicle driver, gunner or commander; or the pilot of an aircraft or helicopter. VR-ENGAGE can be deployed as a trainee simulator, as a role player station, an instructor aid, a desktop simulation game, and even as a virtual reality/augmented reality/mixed reality (VR/AR/MR) headset experience. Built on mature, proven technologies, VR-ENGAGE gets its simulation engine from VR-FORCES and its game-quality 3D graphics from our image generator, VR-VANTAGE.
3. VR-VANTAGE is MAK’s immersive visual scene and sensor image generator. It uses state-of-the-art rendering techniques, physics-based models and special effects to generate views so real that participants become immersed in the virtual environment. VR-VANTAGE can be deployed in a variety of COTS hardware configurations, from simple desktops to blended multi-channel displays for virtual cockpits, monitor-based systems, and AR/VR/MR wearables. VR-VANTAGE with SensorFX is often embedded into hi-fidelity sensor simulation systems.
MT: What are the two principal challenges you face and how are you overcoming them?
B. Cole: First is helping our customers realising the advantages of the cloud. The defence modelling, simulation and training community faces some stiff challenges in the adoption of cloud computing technologies, primarily due to security constraints. It is true to say, however, that the security of cloud computing has come a long way in recent years. The benefits of cloud solutions – including controlled access to a ‘lake of data’, scale and elasticity of computing resources, and access to training at the point of need – have become priorities for our customers. To address this, our developers have ensured that our simulation, networking, and visualisation products are fully capable of working in a cloud environment. To prove this, we have deployed a cloud-based six-station training system demonstrator that uses our entire suite of products. The demonstration is accessible through our website. We have also developed a short guidebook to help our customers sort through the terminology, concepts, and benefits of servers, virtualisation, and cloud architectures here.
Second is the fact that the bar is continually being raised for simulation performance and visual effects. The defence modelling, simulation, and training community delivers immersive simulation environments in virtual worlds that are comparable to Hollywood movies and commercial video games. The challenge for simulation developers is to take the technological advances developed in these commercially-funded (and often fantastic) environments and apply them – taking real end-user requirements into account – to the production of cost-effective training and experimentation systems that yield measurable results. As MAK’s products have improved over the years to meet ever-increasing customer requirements, we have continually sought out innovations in 3D graphics rendering technology, content development strategies and high-fidelity dynamics algorithms, to improve our software and keep our simulations fresh.
MT: What is the single biggest change coming in your market?
B. Cole: Undoubtedly the VR/AR/MR mix. Virtual Reality was all the rage 15-20 years ago, but the technology back then did not live up to expectations. The current resurgence of increasingly viable virtual reality headsets, head-mounted display systems and see-through goggles is proving to have staying power. The opportunity is clear. With person-wearable display systems, fully immersive training can be deployed for a fraction of the cost of projection display systems. And with the smaller cost and footprint, new training applications can be delivered closer to the point of need.
MT: That seems pretty clear. VT MAK has always had a reputation for innovation, for clear-sightedness and for reducing complex requirement sets to simple solutions – if there is such a thing as a simple solution in this industry. It might be interesting to come back in a year’s time to see how Bill Cole’s views may have changed – or, indeed, how he may have changed the company’s approach. Either way, MT and Mönch Training & Simulation Channel (MTSC) will be tracking progress.