September 24, 2014 -- style="margin: 0in 0in 10pt;">A potential new sand table technology to be tried at The Basic School made a pit stop at Modern Day Marine, held Sept. 23-25 aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
The Augmented Reality Sand Table, or ARES, combines readily available and relatively inexpensive commercial off-the-shelf technology to make one of the battlefield’s oldest technologies like new.
Sand tables are rudimentary three-dimensional maps used for military planning and war games on a small scale. Units and vehicles take the battlefield in miniature as 3x5 notecards and pieces of string represent roads or streams.
The ARES improves on notecards and string by projecting images of units and landscapes down onto a tabletop box of sand. ARES utilizes a laptop connected to a projector and a Microsoft Kinect, a combined microphone and camera device used with video game systems.
“It provides a faster and more robust capability to visualize those candidate areas of operation,” said Martin Bushika, assistant program manager and operations manager for Training Systems, which falls under the purview of Marine Corps Systems Command. “ARES can give more detail and a more precise replication of a given area.”
Bushika is part of an MCSC effort to bring the ARES from a potential technology to a reality. Part of that effort is conducting limited user evaluations, which Bushika explained is planned to take place at TBS on Quantico.
“We’re leveraging this because we have insights into what everyone else was doing,” Bushika said. “We’ve seen this sand table and our Marines were well impressed by this capability.”
“Everyone else” in this case was the Army’s Simulation and Training Technology Center, who owns the technology.
Right now, the ARES is a hope for Charles Amburn, senior instructional systems specialist at STTC. But he sees that the technology’s potential is being recognized.
“We have all sorts of people who come through and take a look at our gear and we always take people by the ARES table because they’re always fascinated by it,” Amburn said. “Every time someone looks at it they say ‘man, I could have used this when…’ and their situation they give is always decent. That makes me think that we’re really onto something here.”
Amburn outlined some of the possibilities having a computer-run sand table would allow the Department of Defense. One of the capabilities was linking two tables that could be miles apart.
“If you have two tables, you could link them and conduct planning between groups in different places,” he said. “Or, another interesting possibility is linking the tables to play war games between the two tables. You could do one table against the other, which makes it more realistic because the two forces wouldn’t be able to see each other until they were within line of sight with each other.”
Amburn also said that special software could be installed to more accurately reflect maritime maneuvers or biological/radiation threats on a battlefield.
But before any of that happens, he and Bushika have to be sure that the ARES is necessary.
“We have to determine if this is worthwhile or not,” Bushika said. “We know that Marines build these sand tables to collaborate during planning but we don’t know if it’s going to be worthwhile. We’re hoping to help STTC in this effort by letting Marines get their hands on it.”