Virtual warfare logs on


POSTED: Sunday, February 08, 2009

After a decade of planning, a McCully high-tech firm will deliver a more than $1 million virtual reality simulation trainer for infantry soldiers to the Hawaii Army National Guard.

Using the benefits allowed under the state's 8-year-old Act 221 high technology tax credit law, Laurent Scallie, chief executive officer for Atlantis Cyberspace, said his company raised more than $8 million from local and mainland investors. Among the local investors is retired Gen. Fred Weyand, retired Chief of Staff of the Army.

Atlantis Cyberspace Inc. made a major debut on Oahu at Schofield Barracks in 1999, when it unveiled a virtual reality arcade at one of the post's nightclubs. In 2003, the G4 video-game cable television network broadcast the Army's newest simulated combat video game, played on Atlantis' virtual reality pods at the nightclub.

Scallie now employs 15-full-time workers and 10 consultants and has an annual payroll of $500,000.

“;Within the next three years,”; said Scallie, 40, “;I hope to grow into a $50 million company with more than 130 high-paying technical workers.”;

Using software already developed by the $50 billion gaming industry, Scallie two years ago sold his first-generation virtual reality simulation training system to the Canadian army, which was preparing to send soldiers to Afghanistan.

The new system will be installed at the Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team's headquarters at Kalaeloa. During a recent training demonstration at the company's McCully headquarters, four soldiers wearing virtual reality headsets, vests and gloves were each armed with a specially wired M-4 carbine rifle.

The soldiers were assigned to a platform or pod. Each soldier's movements were controlled by trainers sitting before four 19-inch flat screen video monitors.

One of the monitors projected what the four soldiers were seeing and hearing through their special helmets. The other monitors projected where the soldiers were operating. The trainers could change the battlefield conditions using the software.

The soldiers communicated by using microphones and hand signals, and although they weren't actually walking anywhere, the computer program delivered full sensory sensation, making them feel like they were on a patrol.

The helmet, which projected a 360-degree picture of any situation selected by the computer, allowed the soldier to experience realistic weather, environment and terrain. The soldier's weapon was a fully operational M-4 carbine that was electronically designed to give the soldier the feel of the recoil, muzzle flash and noise of a rifle.

Through his headset, Staff Sgt. Kehau Sproat was told to: “;Head down the alley.”; As he walked through the alley, his next order: “;Open the door on the right.”;

“;You are fully immersed in your environment,”; said Scallie. “;You see, feel and hear what you see and hear in the real combat environment.”;

Hawaii Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Mark Dela Cruz, who deployed to Iraq with the 29th Brigade in 2004, acknowledged that “;there is no substitute for being there on the ground.”;

But he added: “;It is still an excellent training system.”;

Staff Sgt. Dzuong Le, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2004, said virtual reality training simulators save “;both time and money”; for the Hawaii Army National Guard.

“;It helps the soldiers get a feel of what to expect,”; said Le, who has been in the Hawaii Army Guard for 19 years and is now assigned to the 230th Engineer Company. “;It helps the soldiers get familiar with the sights and sounds of the battlefield and actually work as a team.”;