Using Video Games to Train Dogs, and Other Awesome Things

Adam Moses is practicing dog command gestures with an Xbox Kinect in his office at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL).

On the screen in front of him, a virtual Labrador dog obediently moves through an empty desert village; together, they’re trying to locate a buried improvised explosive device (IED). Says Moses, “ONR [The Office of Naval Research] wanted a way for the human to train with a dog, with a virtual dog, that you can train with anytime, anywhere.”

Adam Moses, a computer scientist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), takes a pause from training with ROVER. He wrote the program to help handlers practice working with a dog to find improvised explosive devices (IEDs). (Photo: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory/Jamie Hartman/Released)

What looks like a video game is actually a training tool widely used by the U.S. Army, called Virtual Battlespace. After a lot of research into dog behavior, including watching 100s of hours of tapes of handlers and their dogs in Iraq, Moses worked with others to create ROVER. ROVER is a distinct module that employs Virtual Battlespace and helps handlers practice commands and learning to read the dog’s silent cues.

“Gestures are important, the whistle commands are important, even the voice commands are important,” says Moses. He wrote what he calls a skeleton tracker program for ROVER, so the Xbox camera can “see” a player’s gestures.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on in the background,” he says. “Our challenge was not only doing the plume part of it, which is actually the easier part. The harder part was, how do you account for dog psychology?”

Says Lisa Albuquerque, the former ONR Program Manager, “This collaborative effort between ONR and NRL demonstrates […] our ability to provide multi-disciplinary solutions to warfighter-identified problems. Use of IEDs will persist, and efforts such as this will help our nation to be ready to respond.”

Moses models where an IED is detectable downwind, similar to toxic plumes

Adam Moses of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) was asked to build a program for handlers of improvised explosive device (IED)-detecting dogs to train in a virtual environment, because of NRL’s expertise with modeling plumes for hazardous material releases and attacks in urban environments. (Photo: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory/Released)

If simulating a plume was easy for Moses, that’s because he’s been working with first responders for 10 years to model how — For more information read the original article here.      

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