Australian virtual reality kanga-rues the day

from comp.risks 20.47 :

This is supposedly a true story from a recent Defence Science Lectures Series, as related by the head of the Australian DSTO's Land Operations/Simulation division.

They've been working on some really nifty virtual reality simulators, the case in point being to incorporate Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters into exercises (from the data fusion point of view). Most of the people they employ on this sort of thing are ex- (or future) computer game programmers. Anyway, as part of the reality parameters, they include things like trees and animals. For the Australian simulation they included kangaroos. In particular, they had to model kangaroo movements and reactions to helicopters (since hordes of disturbed kangaroos might well give away a helicopter's position).

Being good programmers, they just stole some code (which was originally used to model infantry detachments reactions under the same stimuli), and changed the mapped icon, the speed parameters, etc. The first time they've gone to demonstrate this to some visiting Americans, the hotshot pilots have decided to get "down and dirty" with the virtual kangaroos. So, they buzz them, and watch them scatter. The visiting Americans nod appreciatively... then gape as the kangaroos duck around a hill, and launch about two dozen Stinger missiles at the hapless helicopter. Programmers look rather embarrassed at forgetting to remove that part of the infantry coding... and Americans leave muttering comments about not wanting to mess with the Aussie wildlife...

As an addendum, simulator pilots from that point onwards avoided kangaroos like the plague, just like they were meant to do in the first place...

The true story, however, is both more mundane ... and more surreal ...

from comp.risks 20.76 :

Dr Anne-Marie Grisogono, Head, Simulation Land Operations Division at the Australian DSTO has told us what actually happened and we are delighted to set the record straight.

"I related this story as part of a talk on Simulation for Defence, at the Australian Science Festival on May 6th in Canberra. The Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter mission simulators built by the Synthetic Environments Research Facility in Land Operations Division of DSTO, do indeed fly in a fairly high fidelity environment which is a 4000 sq km piece of real outback Australia around Katherine, built from elevation data, overlaid with aerial photographs and with 2.5 million realistic 3d trees placed in the terrain in those areas where the photographs indicated real trees actually exist.

"For a bit of extra fun (and not for any strategic reason like kangaroos betraying your cover!) our programmers decided to put in a bit of animated wildlife. Since ModSAF is our simulation tool, these were modeled on ModSAF's Stinger detachments so that the associated detection model could be used to determine when a helo approached, and the behaviour invoked by such contact was set to 'retreat'. Replace the visual model of the Stinger detachment in your stealth viewer with a visual model of a kangaroo (or buffalo...) and you have wildlife that moves away when approached. It is true that the first time this was tried in the lab, we discovered that we had forgotten to remove the weapons and the 'fire' behaviour.

"It is NOT true that this happened in front of a bunch of visitors (American or any other flavour). We don't normally try things for the first time in front of an audience! What I didn't relate in the talk is that since we were not at that stage interested in weapons, we had not set any weapon or projectile types, so what the kangaroos fired at us was in fact the default object for the simulation, which happened to be large multicoloured beachballs.

"I usually conclude the story by reassuring the audience that we have now disarmed the kangaroos and it is again safe to fly in Australia.