Supercomputer puts Qld cops through virtual paces

Officers in the Queensland Police Service have started training for command and control roles with virtual reality imaging in what the department believes is a world first.

The hardware used to create the training centre consists of an SGI Onyx 3000 graphics supercomputer with four 495MHz MIPS processors, 1GB of memory, and 70GB of storage. The 3D model in the system is being split across three channels and is controlled by a standard keyboard and mouse. The operating system is SGI’s Unix variant, IRIX.

“We believe this is a world-first for police training,” Inspector Ralph Knust, manager of the executive development program, Queensland Police Service, said.

He said Queensland Police wanted to boost its training practices and supplement the resource-intensive field training.

In evaluating a possible solution, the department looked at using existing systems as well as developing its own.

“Nothing else offered the same degree of immersion and flexibility as SGI’s,” Inspector Knust said.

The screen itself is an eight-metre wide section of a sphere which has a 160 degree field of view horizontally and 40 degrees vertically.

“The scenario is delivered in real time whilst the participant is in the environment,” Inspector Knust said. “We also feed information to the participant by phone and radio in real time to replicate the dynamic nature of real incidents. The level of realism is such that whilst training, participants experience physical and emotional changes equivalent to what they would [experience] in an actual operational environment.” Inspector Knust said it is very difficult to quantify the return on investment in dollar terms for this type of training.

“This method complements traditional training and allows for more realistic experiences in a safe and controlled environment so police are better prepared for the real world situations,” he said.

QPS has had interest from similar organisations at a state and federal level, Knust said.

The QPS engaged the services of QMI Solutions which houses and manages the facility.

Andy Dennison, manager of Reality Works at QMI Solutions, said access to such training methods is limited.

“Most organisations that would use virtual reality for training are from the commercial sector,” Dennison said. “Now we are getting enquiries from different industries for emergency applications. On the basis of its success here there is a general interest in providing better training.” According to Dennison, the system is coping well with the load but can be scaled if required.