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Training the Video Game Generation

The nation’s workforce, both military and civilian, changes with each new generation. The challenge for military and corporate organizations is to implement training methods that are efficient, relevant and familiar to those who will use them.

According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense, almost every new recruit is familiar with video games. A logical response is the integration of innovative game-based learning (GBL) techniques into standardized mass-training curricula.

The military has developed more than 50 video games for use in training recruits, and corporate training departments also have developed game-based training programs in response to several theories that point to the programs’ promise as a training tool for younger workers. However, there have been few studies to quantify and compare the effectiveness of GBL against traditional, classroom-based training systems.

In 2006 a team of engineers from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) began an internally funded research program to verify the benefits of game-based learning. Partnered with the U.S. Air Force, which contributed funding and a group of recruits to serve as a study group, the objective was to create two training options offering the same content to similar groups of trainees. The SwRI/ USAF team intentionally sought an area of technical training that is necessary but which would be perceived as unexciting in and of itself: the creation and proper submission of aircraft maintenance forms. The content in both cases strove to increase the aircraft maintenance trainee’s sense of value about the procedures being taught and about the need to complete the forms correctly. By setting this goal, the team endeavored to set the training objectives in the affective domain rather than the more traditional cognitive domain.

The team initially had to identify and modify a gaming engine developed for the entertainment industry. The goal was to find and efficiently re-tool existing technology to chart a cost-savings solution for the customer. The resulting prototype combined elements from the entertainment industry with fundamental education techniques that have been proven effective in a military setting.

The team devised a game scenario in which the study participants assume the identity of a senior airman who has responsibility for maintaining, documenting and performing maintenance on aircraft. The airman is sent out to the flight line to complete a repair on an auxiliary power unit of a KC-135 tanker aircraft.

A lifelike, three-dimensional rendering of the flight line, the tanker aircraft and its Number 2 engine appear on the video screen as the airman navigates around the aircraft and signals successful performance of the repair by striking a certain key on the computer. Study participants experience real-world consequences for either making the correct decision to annotate the repair forms, or the incorrect decision to allow themselves to be distracted.

At the conclusion of the trial, more than 86 percent of the participants responding to a survey indicated that they would like to see more such games as training aids. Significantly, however, the perception of worth within sub-groups varied according to their age. Participants ages 26 and under tended to place a higher value on game-based instruction as an effective learning method than those 27 and older. Although the long-term change in participants’ behavior was not measurable at this time, the approach did provide valuable information to encourage future studies.

The SwRI/USAF team received the Federal Government Distributed Learning Association’s 2007 Innovation Award for developing the game.

Contact Doel Durieux at (210) 522-3728 or

SwRI awarded $15.6 million contract for Newport facility

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has been awarded a one-year subcontract by Parsons Infrastructure & Technology Inc. to perform laboratory operations for the destruction of the U.S. Army chemical stockpile stored at the Newport Chemical Depot in Newport, Ind. The contract is valued at approximately $15.6 million.

During the 1960s, the Newport Chemical Depot produced a lethal nerve agent called VX. The Newport Chemical Disposal Facility began operations in 2005 with a focus on safely destroying 4 percent of the nation’s stockpile of chemical agent.

The Institute will provide 100 full-time staff members to analyze the byproducts that result from the agent destruction process and continuously monitor the air inside the plant and around its perimeter, as well as the plant’s effluent, for the presence of the chemical agent VX.

Darrel Johnston, manager of the Environmental and Demilitarization Technology Department at SwRI, said the Institute’s main role will be to protect the health and safety of those working at the plant and those who live in surrounding communities.

“This project fits well with the support we are providing at two other demilitarization sites,” Johnston said. “The Newport Chemical Agent Disposal Facility has successfully destroyed 75 percent of the stockpile stored at the Newport Chemical Depot, and we are proud to provide the laboratory services necessary for them to complete the job this year.”

The Institute has more than 25 years of experience in supporting demilitarization programs. SwRI has programs at the Umatilla Chemical Depot in Hermiston, Ore., and Pine Bluff Chemical Demilitarization Facility in Pine Bluff, Ark. The Institute has also completed a demilitarization program on Johnston Island in the Pacific with the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS).

Contact Johnston at (541) 564-7155 or

SwRI initiates diesel emissions consortium

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) will launch a cooperative research program to develop accelerated aging procedures for diesel emission systems and components. The effort will seek to provide common procedures for use by industry in general, and to potentially simplify certification procedures required to sell diesel-powered vehicles in the United States.

The consortium, Diesel Aftertreatment Accelerated Aging Cycles (DAAAC), intends to develop standard accelerated aging procedures for diesel emission systems for use in the same way as those the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has adopted for gasoline vehicles. Currently, the EPA requires diesel vehicle manufacturers to drive vehicles for 120,000 miles with periodic emissions measurements to certify the vehicles for sale. Gasoline vehicle manufacturers, however, can replace actual driving with an accelerated aging procedure (the standard bench cycle), providing for significant savings in both time and expense to meet certification requirements.

“If there are good accelerated aging procedures available, the EPA should be willing to consider writing them into the regulations,” said Dr. Gordon Bartley, principal scientist in the Engine and Vehicle Research and Development Department in SwRI’s Engine, Emissions and Vehicle Research Division. “Through this consortium, we will develop the procedures with technical input from industryÑindustry shares the costÑand at the end of the day, there will be standard procedures available to the members that all can agree on.”

Members will have access to all information developed during the consortium activities. They will also be able to use the developed procedures, whether or not they are published and written into the regulations. The advantage of membership is that the impact of the yearly contribution is multiplied by the number of participants, providing substantially more pre-competitive research and development than would be possible through similar funding from a single entity.

Contact Bartley at (210) 522-5871 or

SwRI software group earns highest process improvement rating

The Systems and Software Engineering Organization and the Embedded Systems and High Reliability Software Section at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) have earned the highest possible rating for systems and software process improvement as defined by the nationally recognized Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

In February, the two technical organizations at SwRI completed a Standard CMMI Appraisal Method for Process Improvement (SCAMPI A), the most rigorous of three appraisal methods, and were appraised at the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI®) Level 5 for systems and software process improvement, the highest level of the CMMI rating system.

CMMI is a process improvement approach that helps integrate traditionally separate organizational functions, sets process improvement goals and priorities, provides guidance for quality processes, and provides a point of reference for appraising current processes. About 200 level 5 ratings have been issued worldwide since 2005.

Achieving a level 5 rating “puts us in the realm of world-class engineering programs,” said Susan Crumrine, vice president of SwRI’s Automation and Data Systems Division. To achieve a Level 5 rating requires the use of standard processes, which are quantitatively managed for continuous process improvement, across the organization for both the management and engineering aspects of projects.

The appraisal was conducted by an outside SEI-licensed appraiser and encompassed eight projects and 43 staff members in nine functional area representative groups.

Contact Crumrine at (210) 522-2089 or

SwRI’s Young named Fellow of American Geophysical Union

Dr. David T. Young, a program director in the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), has been named a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.

The honor of Fellow recognizes AGU members who have made exceptional scientific contributions in the fields of earth and space sciences. In any given year, the honor is bestowed on only 0.1 percent of the membership.

Young, whose primary interest is experimental space science, joined the SwRI staff in 1988 as an Institute scientist, the highest technical level a staff member can attain.

At SwRI his primary role has been to lead the design and development of innovative space-borne mass spectrometers and oversee scientific research using data they return. He currently serves as principal investigator for instrumentation onboard the Saturn-orbiting spacecraft Cassini, coordinating a team of approximately 30 scientists and engineers in six countries.

At present he leads a team developing state-of-the-art mass spectrometers for NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission to study magnetic reconnection in the Earth’s magnetosphere, slated to launch in 2014. He also oversees efforts to develop new spectrometers for a proposed Mars Scout mission and instrumentation for several ground-based programs.

Young holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Louisiana Lafayette, and master’s and doctoral degrees in space science from Rice University. He is the author or co-author of more than 150 publications in professional journals and holds U.S. patents for miniaturized mass spectrometers. In addition to the AGU, Young is a member of the European Geophysical Union, the American Astronomical Society and the American Society for Mass Spectrometry.

SwRI expands international collaboration on autonomous vehicle technology

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is joining forces with the Association pour la Recherche et le Developpement des Methodes et Processus Industriels (ARMINES) of France to enhance the state of the art in the field of road automation. The collaboration will address sensors, vehicle controls, robotics and pathway generation. This collaboration follows an agreement between SwRI and the Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique (INRIA) of France signed last year.

SwRI signed a collaboration agreement with ARMINES, specifically the CAOR (Robotics Lab), a common research center of ARMINES and Mines Paris-ParisTech, February 25, 2008. This industry-oriented research organization has been working with INRIA since 2005 on the LaRA Project “La Route Automatisee” to conduct joint research and development activities for intelligent transport systems. The SwRI-ARMINES collaboration will conduct joint research and exchange intellectual property to foster rapid technology and system advancements in vehicle autonomy and road automation.

“We believe that the vehicle autonomy field is entering a rapid growth phase, as evidenced by recent advances associated with defense science programs such as the DARPA Urban Challenge and the European Commission PReVENT programs, as well as automotive industry advances in active safety systems,” said Dr. Steven W. Dellenback, director of SwRI’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Department.

In 2006, SwRI established a $5 million internal research and development program, called the Southwest Safe Transport Initiative, to improve safety in urban traffic environments. SSTI is charged with developing new sensor, computing and mobile technologies to augment vehicle platforms and provide autonomous vehicle capabilities. Through SSTI, the Institute is fusing the latest technology from multiple industries to meet the challenges associated with autonomous control of cars, trucks and tractors.

SwRI is applying its multidisciplinary technical expertise to create a full-scale autonomous ground vehicle platform for advanced engineering applications development. The SSTI program draws on SwRI’s broad technical expertise in areas including unmanned aerial systems, intelligent transportation and vehicle systems, cooperative vehicle systems, cognitive and multi-agent systems, engineering dynamics, advanced vehicle research, hardware and software-in-the-loop simulation, machine vision, large-scale multi-function robotics and safety and reliability systems.

Created in 1967 at the initiative of Mines Paris-ParisTech, ARMINES is a contract research association focusing on industry-oriented research. With 500 employees working in 50 laboratories on 37 million euros worth of industrial research annually, ARMINES is affiliated with Mines Paris-ParisTech under the control of the Ministry of the Economy. ARMINES helps orient educational research toward industrial problems. Mines Paris-ParisTech is a top level institution in the French educational system.

Contact Dellenback at (210) 522-3914 or

SwRI holds fifth clean diesel consortium kick-off meeting

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has launched its fifth cooperative research program aimed at reducing diesel engine emissions. The consortium, known as Clean Diesel V, comprises more than 40 members, including light, heavy-duty, and off-road engine manufacturers, component suppliers, and oil and fuel companies.

Building on 16 years of successful clean diesel programs at SwRI, the newest four-year effort will seek to improve diesel emissions technology to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s stringent 2010 emissions goals.

“The ultimate goal is to develop technologies that will allow the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to produce the most efficient and most cost-effective engines that will meet the current and future emissions regulations,” said Dr. Thomas Ryan, an Institute engineer in SwRI’s Engine, Emissions and Vehicle Research Division.

The program is designed to develop new diesel technologies for consortium members with the primary objective of reducing oxides of nitrogen (NOx) to 0.2 gram/horsepower-hour (g/hp-hr) and particulates to 0.01 g/hp-hr.

Consortium participants determine which projects are undertaken from among a number of Institute-suggested projects. SwRI engineers and scientists recommend areas of interest based on SwRI’s extensive automotive-related experience and on work performed during the four earlier clean diesel consortia.

Possible projects include full operating range homogenous charge compression ignition (HCCI) engine development, dilute diffusion combustion engine development, expansion of the advanced SwRI low-temperature combustion technology and integration of cost-effective aftertreatment systems.

The consortium is designed to develop pre-competition technologies that member companies can incorporate into their products. Heavy-duty emissions goals are the U.S. 2010 and Euro VI on-road and Tier IV off-road standards. Light-duty emissions goals are the U.S. Tier 2, Bin 5 and Euro VI, with the U.S. Tier 2, Bin 2 as a stretch goal.

The advantage of consortium membership is that the impact of the yearly contribution is multiplied by the number of participants, providing substantially more research than would be possible with funding from a single member. In addition, SwRI’s internally funded research programs involving control algorithms and modified combustion concepts will be shared with consortium members. These efforts often form the basis for focused research under the consortium.

The Institute will pursue patent applications for technology developed during the Clean Diesel V program, and consortium participants will receive a royalty-free license to use the technology.

Published in the Spring 2008 issue of Technology Today®, published by Southwest Research Institute. For more information, contact Joe Fohn.

Spring 2008 Technology Today
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