Auburn’s Madsen leads development of new virtual training system for the military, law enforcement

Published: March 03, 2016
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A new training aid for the military and law enforcement transforms participants into three-dimensional avatars, enabling them to simulate actual missions. Named "Dauntless," the system is the latest technology from Motion Reality Inc., a company based in Marietta, Georgia.

The development of Dauntless was led by Nels Madsen, professor of mechanical engineering at Auburn University and also the Motion Reality vice president for research and development. Motion Reality debuted the cutting-edge technology during the Defense and Security Equipment International Show in London, the largest event of its kind for the world's military.

The Dauntless immersive virtual training system mimics realistic scenarios, allowing users to train as if they are engaged in actual operations. The system features high-resolution graphics and video game capabilities. This follows in the footsteps of VIRTSIM, the company's previous simulation and training product, which has been in use by the FBI and a Gulf nation since 2011.

Dauntless trainees wear wide field-of-view headsets and are able to carry weapons and engage within a variety of virtual venues. The system can also administer muscle stimulation feedback to a participant's body, simulating injuries. This feedback mechanism, along with many other features, enhances the ability to hone individual skills and tactics and to participate in team exercises.

Madsen, who has led research and development for the company since the 1980s, said the Dauntless system is being evaluated by defense and security organizations around the world and has received rave reviews.

"The Dauntless technology is quite compelling and readily engages users into very real scenarios," he said.

The training system is the latest of many career achievements for Madsen. His work in the field began in sports biomechanics when he joined the Auburn faculty in 1978 and formed a close working relationship with Thomas McLaughlin, who had joined the faculty a year earlier.

Through the mid-1980s, Madsen and McLaughlin's unique collaborative research combined biomechanics with engineering methods, influencing the development of advanced motion-capture technologies. In the early years, they used markers placed on subjects to monitor movement and create 3-D models. Information gathered from these studies led to specific training regimens used to train athletes on nearly every Auburn sports team, including Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley and Rowdy Gaines.

In addition, the entrepreneurial team developed camera and analysis technologies to analyze the 3-D movements of racquetball and tennis players. This research fueled the optimization of racquet designs, contributing to the demise of the traditional wooden tennis racquet.

Later, Madsen and McLaughlin employed video cameras and 3-D computer graphic displays to create better systems for analyzing human movement. Video motion capture was developed using software to track the movement of objects or people and create 3-D animated models.

"McLaughlin left academia around this time period and founded Motion Reality. He had envisioned even greater technological improvements and the private sector provided capital to advance the technology," Madsen said. "While I stayed at Auburn, McLaughlin asked that I lead the R&D effort at Motion Reality, which I was thrilled to do. This has allowed Motion Reality to serve as an employment gateway for many of my students."

A motion capture laboratory was established on campus in the 1990s, with funding from Motion Reality and Auburn University, enabling Auburn Engineering students to obtain hands-on experience and secure jobs following graduation.

Motion Reality teamed up with Acclaim Entertainment, a video game company, to pioneer the first use of the 3-D motions of live humans as templates for animated characters in video games. Brian Windsor, an Auburn University mechanical engineering graduate, joined Acclaim Entertainment and led the use of this approach in video games such as "NFL Quarterback Club" and "Mortal Kombat."

A spinoff of this video game technology led to the creation of animated characters for feature films, including "Batman Forever," "Avatar" and "The Lord of the Rings." Madsen received an Academy Award for technical achievement in 2005 for the Motion Reality software used to create the characters for movies such as the blockbuster hit "The Lord of the Rings."

Taking hardware and software to the next level, Motion Reality teamed up with TaylorMade-adidas Golf Company to develop 3-D golf swing analysis systems. These MATT-T systems capture human body and golf-swing data for the development of custom-fit golf clubs and for the improvement of golfers' swings. This technology development was another step toward later development of the immersive virtual reality VIRTSIM and Dauntless systems.

Looking to the future, Madsen said he is excited about the possibilities of providing solutions for other areas, including medicine and robotics, and continuing his work as a professor.

Editor's note: Dauntless, VIRTSIM and MATT-T are trademarked products.